President Dmitry Medvedev unveiled a huge monument to his predecessor Boris Yeltsin on Tuesday, praising him for leading Russia through its difficult first years after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

The 10-meter (33-foot) marble obelisk was unveiled in Yeltsin's hometown of Yekaterinburg on the 80th anniversary of his birth. The city is 900 miles (1,500 kilometers) east of Moscow.

Yeltsin died in April 2007 at age 76 and is buried in Moscow's Novodevichy Cemetery. His admirers paid their respects Tuesday by laying flowers at his grave, a monument with billowing stripes of white, blue and red representing the flag he raised over the Kremlin in a newly independent Russia.

Yeltsin's legacy remains controversial in Russia, with some admiring him for promoting civil freedoms and democracy and others despising him for the corruption and economic suffering that marked his presidency.

Masha Lipman, a political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said Yeltsin should be given credit less for what he created than for what he destroyed.

"Communism, the inhumane political order that existed in Russia for 70 years, was destroyed in 1991, and it was Yeltsin and his reforms that made it irreversible," Lipman said.

Medvedev said today's Russia should be thankful that Yeltsin "did not turn away from the path of change during the most difficult period in the history of the country."

The Russian president was joined at the ceremony by Naina Yeltsin, Yeltsin's widow; their daughters Yelena Okulova and Tatyana Yumasheva, and Boris Yeltsin, his grandson.