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Leonid Bershidsky

Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin Missed Historic Opportunity

Transcripts from the 1990s show how the U.S. could have helped put Russia on a different course.

Unequal friendship. 

Unequal friendship. 

Photographer: Dirck Halstead/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

The transcripts of calls and personal conversations between Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin, published by the Clinton Presidential Library, reveal a complex relationship. They also pose tantalizing questions about what the world could have been like had the relationship been more equal.

American Russia experts who are listed among the note-takers of the presidential conversations said the freshly declassified documents refute the Kremlin’s narrative of a humiliated, cheated Russia whose assertive comeback under President Vladimir Putin was overdue. For Russian readers, they add substance to the story of victimization.