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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kremlin Made Yeltsin Live in ‘Golden Cage’

MTMikhail Kasyanov, pictured in 2007, writes in his new memoir that Putin told ministers to stop visiting Yeltsin.

President Boris Yeltsin spent his retirement in a “golden cage,” his phone tapped and the Kremlin controlling visitors, former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said in excerpts from a forthcoming book.

Vladimir Putin, who replaced Yeltsin as president in 2000, forced Yeltsin to celebrate his 75th birthday in the Kremlin and controlled the guest list, Kasyanov wrote in his memoir, excerpts of which were published in the opposition weekly The New Times this week.

“Yeltsin was very upset that they forced him to celebrate his birthday in the Kremlin and not as he wanted, freely, informally,” Kasyanov wrote in the book.

“I think he then finally understood that he was living as a prisoner in a golden cage. To accept this fact was of course a tragedy for him,” he said.

Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he had not read the excerpts and was unable to comment.

Yeltsin resigned unexpectedly on Dec. 31, 1999, making Putin acting president.

Kasyanov said he befriended Yeltsin in 2000, visiting him at his dacha and going on hunting trips. Yeltsin took an active interest in government affairs until Putin told Kasyanov to put an end to ministers’ visits because of the retired president’s “weak heart,” according to the excerpts.

“It was polite, but in essence a command: no one should visit Yeltsin any more,” Kasyanov said.

Yeltsin spent his retirement in a luxurious government-owned mansion and was often seen at major sports events. But he remained out of public politics even after Putin began to reverse his democratic reforms.

Kasyanov served as prime minister during Putin’s first term as president until he was fired in February 2004, shortly before the election in which Putin won a second term in office. Kasyanov soon entered the opposition and heads the Russian Popular Democratic Union. He was barred from running in the 2008 presidential election.

Yeltsin backed Kasyanov’s decision to go into the opposition, according to the book. While he opposed some of Putin’s decisions, such as abolishing direct gubernatorial elections, he kept quiet to protect his family, Kasyanov said.

Kasyanov’s visits ended after Putin decided to celebrate Yeltsin’s 75th birthday in the Kremlin, according to the book. Kasyanov said that when he called to offer his congratulations, Yeltsin complained that his phone was bugged.

“It’s hard to see how all this is happening around me,” Kasyanov cites Yeltsin as saying.

Yeltsin ended his life in luxury when he died in 2007 at the age of 76, but much of his political legacy had been erased.

Kasyanov said he and Yeltsin met for the final time in 2006, when Yeltsin had to intervene so that he would be allowed to visit him in the hospital with a broken hip. Kasyanov said Yeltsin advised him to buy a lot of cheap mobile phones that he could easily dispose of to avoid being bugged.

“You have to recognize that the first Russian president himself consented to this lack of freedom,” Kasyanov said. “He paid for it with a great feeling of unease.” 

(Reuters, Bloomberg)