MOSCOW // Russia's late president Boris Yeltsin believed in his last years that his phones were bugged and that he lived in a "golden cage" created by his successor Vladimir Putin, a top Kremlin critic alleged yesterday. Mikhail Kasyanov, a former prime minister who is now bitterly opposed to the government, said Mr Yeltsin - Russia's first democratically elected leader - also had his visitors restricted on Mr Putin's orders.
The allegations have been made in an excerpt from a book by Mr Kasyanov, published in The New Times, an opposition weekly newspaper. They were based on his conversations with Mr Yeltsin in the years before the ex-president's death in 2007. Mr Yeltsin stepped down as president in 2000 and was replaced by Mr Putin, now Russia's prime minister, whose presidency was marked by tighter state control on society and a worsening of Russia's relations with the West.
According to Mr Kasyanov, Mr Yeltsin was bitter at his successor's policies and felt isolated at his retirement residence outside Moscow, where he felt that his phone calls were being monitored. "They are listening to all my phones. It is hard to see how all this is happening around us," Mr Yeltsin told Mr Kasyanov in one of their conversations, according to the book excerpt. The former president also advised the author to buy a new mobile telephone each time he called in order to avoid surveillance.
Mr Kasyanov also said Mr Putin once told him to tell the rest of the Cabinet not to visit Mr Yeltsin because their visits were upsetting the ex-president and worsening his health. "This had the form of a friendly request, but in essence, it was an order: nobody is to go see Yeltsin anymore," Mr Kasyanov said. He also said Mr Yeltsin was upset when Mr Putin decided to mark his 75th birthday with a formal event at the Kremlin, with an officially approved guest list, rather than an informal party at home. "I think it was then that he finally understood that he was living like a prisoner in a golden cage," Mr Kasyanov said.
A spokesman for Mr Putin dismissed the allegations from Mr Kasyanov, who served as prime minister from 2000 to 2004, when he was sacked by Mr Putin, and later became a critic of his former boss. "I do not regard the Kasyanov interview as something that needs to be commented upon," Mr Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. * Agence France-Presse