Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Boris Yeltsin Dies of Heart Failure

ReutersBoris Yeltsin waving to a crowd of demonstrators in Moscow on Aug. 20, 1991, in the midst of the unsuccessful coup attempt against Mikhail Gorbachev.
Former President Boris Yeltsin died of heart failure in a Kremlin hospital on Monday. He was 76.

The Kremlin's top doctor, Sergei Mironov, said Yeltsin died at 3:45 p.m. at the Central Clinical Hospital in Moscow.

"He died as a result of progressive cardiovascular and multiple organ failures," Mironov told reporters.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed the account.

It was not immediately clear what led to the heart failure. Less than two weeks ago, Yeltsin was planning a seaside vacation, said Viktor Chernomyrdin, who served for eight years as Yeltsin's prime minister.

"I was on the phone with Boris Nikolayevich on April 9. ... He was asking whether it would be warm in the Crimea this year. He was planning to spend 10 days or so this year in the Crimea," said Chernomyrdin, Russia's ambassador to Ukraine, Interfax reported.

A sign of his poor health surfaced last weekend when Yeltsin, a big tennis fan, failed to attend the Federation Cup match between Russia and Spain in Moscow. Shamil Tarpishchev, the Federation Cup captain and the country's top sports official under Yeltsin, said the former president had not attended because he caught a cold while on vacation in Jordan, reported Monday.

A former classmate described Yeltsin's illness as more than a cold. "He was sick recently and couldn't walk," said Anatoly Yuzhaninov, who attended the Urals Polytechnical Institute with Yeltsin in the 1950s, RIA-Novosti reported.

The news portal, citing sources close to the family, reported that Yeltsin had been in the hospital for about one week.

Yeltsin underwent quintuple bypass surgery in September 1996 and then suffered one ailment after another, including pneumonia, before abruptly resigning on Dec. 31, 1999. He seemed to flourish in retirement, taking many vacations abroad, but his health remained fragile. He fell and broke a hip while vacationing in Sardinia, Italy, in September 2005, immobilizing him for months.

Heart surgeon Renat Akchurin, who led the team that operated on Yeltsin in 1996, said there had been no warning signs that Yeltsin had taken a turn for the worse.

"The cardiac problem was progressing little by little, and it was this problem that must have manifested itself in the sudden heart failure," he said on Ekho Moskvy radio.

President Vladimir Putin called Yeltsin's widow, Naina, and expressed his condolences, the Kremlin said in a brief statement.

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, Yeltsin's one-time bitter foe, was the first prominent figure to voice his sorrow publicly. "I express my deepest condolences to the family of the deceased, who accomplished great deeds that benefited the nation as well as serious mistakes," said Gorbachev, who lost control of the Soviet Union after a coup attempt in August 1991 and eventually gave up his Kremlin residence to Yeltsin in December of that year.

Boris Nemtsov, who served as Yeltsin's first deputy prime minister, praised the late president for granting many freedoms to Russians and urged people to fight for those freedoms.

"We should fight for freedom in the memory of Boris Yeltsin because there is none left now. Only censorship and deception," Nemtsov said by telephone, in a thinly veiled criticism of Putin, whom critics accuse of presiding over a rollback of democracy.

Pavel Gerasimov / Reuters
Boris Yeltsin, more than six years since leaving office, watching a military parade on May 9, 2006, on Red Square.
"Despite all his inconsistencies, Yeltsin will go down in history as a positive figure because he wanted to liberalize Russia and not drive it into slavery," Nemtsov said. "He is hated the way they hate all liberators in this country."

Sergei Stepashin, who served as Yeltsin's prime minister for just a few months, called Yeltsin "an entire epoch in the history of our country."

"He was a complex man, but he assumed great responsibility for the fate of Russia," said Stepashin, Interfax reported. Stepashin, now head of the Audit Chamber, was very loyal as prime minister and was visibly shaken when Yeltsin fired him in August 1999 to promote Putin to the post.

Yeltsin resigned four months later, leaving little time for the opposition to mount a meaningful challenge to Putin, his heir apparent. Despite Yeltsin's mixed record, Putin avoided directly criticizing him. But he quickly targeted some members of Yeltsin's inner circle, known as the Family, as he sought to end the rule of powerful oligarchs through prosecution.

Kremlin-connected political analyst Sergei Markov said any promises Putin had made to Yeltsin and his inner circle would be fulfilled. "Absolutely nothing will change. Nothing will be touched," he said. "This might concern the bank accounts of Yeltsin or people close to him. For Putin, this is a matter of honor."

Markov said the Yeltsin era officially ended when Putin took control of ORT television from Boris Berezovsky, the former Kremlin kingmaker who now lives in self-imposed exile in London.

Gennady Burbulis, a key ally of Yeltsin who was once referred to as an eminence grise, praised Yeltsin for averting much bloodshed during and after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

"Despite all his errors, he was an outstanding man. At the crucial moment he assumed responsibility and saved the country from a bloody battle for the legacy of the totalitarian Soviet Union," Burbulis said on Ekho Moskvy radio.

Belarus' first post-Soviet president, Stanislav Shushkevich, thanked Yeltsin for his role in Belarussian independence.

"It would not have been bloodless if Russia had been run by someone else," said Shushkevich, who along with Yeltsin and Ukraine's leader gathered in a hunting lodge in the Belovezhskaya Pushcha nature reserve near Minsk and signed an agreement on Dec. 8, 1991, that spelled the end of the Soviet Union.

Yeltsin is survived by his wife, Naina, 75, as well as two daughters, five grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

The family was discussing funeral arrangements late Monday, Interfax reported.

Staff writers Carl Schreck and Kevin O'Flynn contributed to this story.