A few months ago I asked a Kremlin grandee, who worked with both Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin, which president of Russia he preferred. I expected him to favour the warm but shambolic Yeltsin rather than the competent but icy Putin. I was wrong. ‘The difference,’ he explained, ‘is that Yeltsin was a capricious Tsar; Putin’s a practical politician.’ But who, I asked was the more lovable? ‘Putin,’ he replied, ‘because he’s always direct and he keeps his word.’ His words returned to me when I heard on Monday that Yeltsin had died. Yeltsin’s style of tsardom — impulsive, bombastic, secretive, drunken — meant inconsistency and insecurity for even his closest aides, never mind his own people. Yet for all his flamboyance and recklessness, and for all the colossal mistakes, Yeltsin was a giant.