He showed promise. That promise was fulfilled. In 1990 he helped to destroy the Soviet Empire from within and brought down the communist grip on Eastern Europe, and in 1991 he faced down the tanks of a communist counter-revolution and confirmed the collapse of the Soviet Empire, and the coming of political freedom to Russia for the first time since ... well, ever. "
Seen on television cameras all around the world, Yeltsin condemned the counter-revolution as "an anti-constitutional act," an attempt to "remove from power the legally elected authorities of the Russian Republic." He called on "the citizens of Russia to give a fitting rebuff to the putschists ..." They did.
This was a great thing for Russia, and for everyone around the world watching.
Yeltsin brought a measure of political freedom, for a time, but economic freedom and fuller supermarkets proved somewhat more difficult, proving again the adage that a good revolutionary leader will very rarely have the qualities needed to be a good peacetime leader.
He was however the first leader of Russia who didn't die in office, who resigned before he either died of it or was assassinated. Handing over to KGB chief Putin was not his finest hour -- standing atop a tank in front of the Russian 'White House' to face down communist counter-revolution: that was Yeltsin's finest hour, and it was a defining moment in history for which he will be fondly remembered.