- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2007

MOSCOW — Russia bade a solemn farewell yesterday to Boris Yeltsin, its first post-Soviet president, with a sonorous funeral under the gilded arches of a cathedral near the Kremlin and burial in a leafy cemetery near the banks of the Moscow River.

Two dozen white-robed priests led the service before a crowd of dignitaries, including his hand-picked successor, President Vladimir Putin, and other world leaders of his era, including former Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton, and former British Prime Minister John Major.

The Cathedral of Christ the Savior echoed with the priests and a choir singing the Russian Orthodox funeral liturgy during the 85-minute service, which was televised live.

Afterward, a black Mercedes hearse carried Mr. Yeltsin’s flag-draped coffin from the cathedral, past a crowd of mourners. At a spot closer to Moscow’s prestigious Novodevichy Cemetery, it was transferred to a caisson, and an armored, military-green reconnaissance vehicle then pulled it along a street strewn with red carnations.

At the grave site, the coffin was reopened, and Mr. Yeltsin’s widow, Naina, gently caressed his cheek one last time and kissed his face. After she, their two daughters and other relatives said their final farewells, the coffin was lowered into the earth.

The choice of Novodevichy Cemetery was a fitting site for the grave of Russia’s first post-Soviet, post-czarist leader. An avowed foe of communism who sought to outlaw the party after he rose to power, it would not seem appropriate to bury him behind Lenin’s tomb, beside the honored Soviet-era leaders by the Kremlin wall.

Novodevichy Cemetery holds the graves of an array of Russia’s artistic elite, including those of Dmitry Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev and Anton Chekhov. It also holds the graves of politicians, including another reformer — former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev — who is buried about 200 yards from Mr. Yeltsin.

Mr. Yeltsin was a key engineer of the end of the Soviet Union and led Russia into often-chaotic attempts to recover from decades of communist repression and economic stagnation.

The first freely elected president of Russia, Mr. Yeltsin was widely admired for his valor in opposing the 1991 hard-line coup attempt — scrambling atop a tank to rally democratic opposition. But he was widely derided for his heavy drinking and was despised for allowing the sell-off of lucrative prizes of Russia’s industrial empire to insiders while millions of his countrymen plunged into poverty.

“The whole dramatic history of the 20th century was reflected in Boris Nikolayevich,” said Patriarch Alexy II, who used Mr. Yeltsin’s patronymic in a letter read at the funeral. “Being a strong individual, he took upon himself the fate of the country at a difficult and dangerous time of radical change.”

The letter was read by Metropolitan Yuvenaly, who led the service. The church said Alexy was unable to attend because he was undergoing medical treatment.

Before the funeral, more than 20,000 people filed through the cathedral to the view the body of Mr. Yeltsin, who died Monday at age 76.

Also attending the service was Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader and a bitter rival during the final years of the communist era.

Communist Party lawmakers, meanwhile, expressed resentment of Mr. Yeltsin’s role in bringing an end to the Soviet Union by refusing to stand for a moment of silence at the opening of yesterday’s session of the lower house of parliament.

“We will never give honor to the destroyer of fatherland,” Communist Deputy Viktor Ilyukhin was quoted as saying by the RIA-Novosti news agency.

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