Baltic Leaders Mourn Yeltsin

Independent on Line
April 24, 2007

Vilnius – Leaders in the Baltic states on Monday mourned the death of former Russian president Boris Yeltsin, praising his courage in helping them regain independence from the Soviet Union.

“Yeltsin was the statesman who laid the ground for Lithuania to regain independence,” Lithuanian Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas said.

“Agreements signed by Yeltsin, including the treaty on the Russian army’s withdrawal from Lithuania, were the most important agreements for us with Russia,” Kirkilas added.

Days after the abortive Moscow coup in August 1991, in which hardline communists tried to wrest control from progressive USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Yeltsin, who was then Russian President, signed a document recognising the independence of the three Baltic states.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had been forcibly incorporated into Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union at the end of World War II.

At Yeltsin’s urging, other leaders — including Gorbachev on behalf of the Soviet Union — also publicly recognised the Baltic states’ sovereignty.

Earlier in 1991, when Soviet tanks killed a dozen Lithuanians demonstrating in Vilnius for independence, Yeltsin had publicly expressed his support for Baltic sovereignty.

“Boris Yeltsin was a brave man with open soul, who I believe will become part of not only Russia’s history but also the history of the Baltic countries and the world,” Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus said.

“He helped speed up Lithuania’s march to freedom and contributed to the Baltic countries’ quest to restore independence. It was a great honour to have such a friend and partner,” Adamkus said.

“Yeltsin played a remarkable role in ending the totalitarian regime of the USSR and giving birth to a new Russia,” Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said in a letter of condolences.

“I remember with gratitude the role Yeltsin played in helping Estonia to restore independence peacefully in 1991, and the role he played in taking Russian out of Estonia in 1994,” Ilves wrote.

Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga hailed Yeltsin’s “ability to make decisions at crucial moments, his courage when it was most needed will remain in the ineradicable scope of his achievements”.

“Boris Yeltsin played a significant role not only in Russian history but in the history of the whole of eastern Europe,” Vike-Freiberga said.

“We are mourning along with Russia… this is a loss for Europe,” she said.

Yeltsin died on Monday in Moscow from a heart attack. He was 76.