Bungling Boris see light in bath to book place in history

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The Independent Online
WITHIN a week of Cosmopolitan launching its Russian language edition with a promise to probe the dilemma 'Sex or Chocolate', President Boris Yeltsin is testing Russian readers' appetites with a chatty, globally syndicated volume of memoirs confessing intimate foibles and follies in the Kremlin.

It is not the first time a Russian leader has tried to explain himself in print. When Nikita Khrushchev did so, he was out of office and so out of favour he had to smuggle his tape-recordings abroad for publication. Mikhail Gorbachev put his name to a brief account of the August 1991 putsch but is still working on more considered memoirs.

Mr Yeltsin celebrated his own work, Notes of a President - initial print run 100,000 and serialised in newspapers world-wide - with a lavish dinner at the Kremlin for foreign publishers. He said he wanted to convey the 'living truth, written today when all this has happened and is still happening'.

The most contentious event covered by the book is Mr Yeltsin's decision to dissolve, encircle and finally shell parliament last autumn. He is harsh about his own allies. He accuses the Defence Minister, Pavel Grachev, of dithering, says special forces declined to move until one of their own was shot, and describes Gennady Burbulis, a chief Kremlin strategist, as arrogant and intolerant. But Mr Yeltsin emerges far from infallible himself.

He describes as 'tragically mistaken' the decision not to respond when protesters first surged towards the White House on Saturday and Sunday, 3-4 October - a passivity that stirred countless conspiracy theories. Mr Yeltsin also blames himself for picking Alexander Rutskoi as his vice-president, saying they 'simply did not get on'.

Often caricatured as a firm- handed, no-nonsense muzhik, Mr Yeltsin admits to 'destabilising bouts of depression, grave second thoughts, insomnia and headaches in the middle of the night, tears and despair'. He seems to revel in his own bungling. Everything he touches breaks down: cars and planes crash; well-laid plans fall apart. The book opens with a description of his baby daughter screaming for food on a train. With no one to help, Mr Yeltsin is desperate: 'To make a long story short, I opened my shirt and let her touch her lips to my own chest and she suddenly stopped crying.'

Mr Yeltsin dates his decision to ditch Communism to a 1989 session in a Moscow bathhouse: 'That moment in the banya is when I changed my world view, when I realised that I was a Communist by historical Soviet tradition, by inertia, by education but not by conviction.' He then asks a question which a gathering army of critics answer every day from the floor of the State Duma, from loudhailers during street protests outside the White House and in the columns of Pravda and other opposition newspapers: 'It would be interesting for me to know now: what would those guys in the banya say to me now?'