I was so caught up in the drama of Carina Chocano a few hours ago (which turned out to be not so dramatic) that I missed the late-morning news about the death of Boris Yeltsin. He was the first Russian leader I genuinely admired (or half-admired), and I think he’s also the last one to qualify in that regard.

Yeltsin was a brave, erratic man, a fighter, a moody reformist, a drinker (which led to health problems), charismatic and bear-like…the guy whose best moment came when he stood up on that tank in August 1991 and rallied the Soviet people against an attempted coup against the government of Mikhail Gorbachev, “a heroic moment etched in the minds of the Russian people and television viewers all over the world,” as Marilyn Berger‘s N.Y. Times story reads.

“Although his commitment to reform wavered, Yeltsin eliminated government censorship of the press, tolerated public criticism, and steered Russia toward a free-market economy,” Berger wrote. “Not least, Yeltsin was instrumental in dismembering the Soviet Union and allowing its former republics to make their way as independent states.”