Originally a supporter of Mikhail Gorbachev
, Yeltsin emerged under the perestroika
reforms as one of Gorbachev's most powerful political opponents. On 29 May 1990 he was elected the chairman of the Russian Supreme Soviet.
1990 The Russian parliament elects Boris Yeltsin president of the Russian SFSR.
1991 Russians elect Boris Yeltsin as the president of the republic.
1992 Boris Yeltsin announces that Russia will stop targeting United States cities with nuclear weapons.
1992 A 'joint understanding' agreement on arms reduction is signed by U.S. President George H. W. Bush and Russian President Boris Yeltsin (this would be later codified in START II).
1993 In Moscow, George H. W. Bush and Boris Yeltsin sign the second Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).
1993 Russian President Boris Yeltsin suspends parliament and scraps the then-functioning constitution, thus triggering the Russian constitutional crisis of 1993.
1993 Russian Constitutional Crisis: In Moscow, tanks bombard the White House, a government building that housed the Russian parliament, while demonstrators against President Boris Yeltsin rally outside.
1994 First Chechen War: Russian President Boris Yeltsin orders Russian troops into Chechnya.
1996 First Chechnya War: Russian President Boris Yeltsin meets with Chechnyan rebels for the first time and negotiates a cease-fire.
1999 Russian President Boris Yeltsin fires his Prime Minister, Sergei Stepashin, and for the fourth time fires his entire cabinet.
Let's not talk about Communism. Communism was just an idea, just pie in the sky.
A man must live like a great brilliant flame and burn as brightly as he can. In the end he burns out. But this is far better than a mean little flame.
Storm clouds of terror and dictatorship are gathering over the whole country... They must not be allowed to bring eternal night.
Your commanders have ordered you to storm the White House and to arrest me. But I as the elected President of Russia give you the order to turn your tanks and not to fight against your own people.
I believe in this tragic hour you can make the right choice. The honor and glory of Russian men of arms shall not be stained with the blood of the people.
You can build a throne with bayonets, but it's difficult to sit on it.
Liberty sets the mind free, fosters independence and unorthodox thinking and ideas. But it does not offer instant prosperity or happiness and wealth to everyone. This is something that politicians in particular must keep in mind.
Today is The last day of an era past.
One could see that what you are writing was that today's meeting with President Bill Clinton was going to be a disaster. Now, for the first time, I can tell you that you are a disaster.
A sense of proportion and humanitarian action are not issues for terrorists. Their aim is that of killing and destroying.
Originally a supporter of Mikhail Gorbachev
, Yeltsin emerged under the perestroika
reforms as one of Gorbachev's most powerful political opponents. On 29 May 1990 he was elected the chairman of the Russian Supreme Soviet. On 12 June 1991 he was elected by popular vote to the newly created post of President of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic
(SFSR), at that time one of the 15 constituent republics of the Soviet Union. He won 57% of the vote in a six-candidate contest and became the second democratically elected leader of Russia in history. Upon the resignation of Mikhail Gorbachev
and the final dissolution of the Soviet Union
on 25 December 1991, Yeltsin remained in office as the President of the Russian Federation, the USSR's successor state. Yeltsin was reelected in the 1996 election; in the second round of the election Yeltsin defeated Gennady Zyuganov
from the revived Communist Party
by a margin of 13%. However, Yeltsin never recovered his early popularity after a series of economic and political crises in Russia in the 1990s.
He vowed to transform Russia's socialist command economy
into a free market economy
and implemented economic shock therapy
, price liberalization and privatization programs
. Due to the method of privatization, a good deal of the national wealth fell into the hands of a small group of oligarchs. Much of the Yeltsin era was marked by widespread corruption, inflation, economic collapse
and enormous political and social problems that affected Russia and the other former states of the USSR. Within the first few years of his presidency, many of Yeltsin's political supporters turned against him and Vice President Alexander Rutskoy
denounced the reforms as "economic genocide".
Ongoing confrontations with the Supreme Soviet climaxed in the October 1993 Russian constitutional crisis
in which Yeltsin illegally ordered the dissolution of the parliament, which then attempted to remove Yeltsin from office. The military eventually sided with Yeltsin and besieged and shelled the Russian White House, resulting in the deaths of 187 people. Yeltsin then scrapped the existing constitution
, temporarily banned political opposition and deepened his economic experimentation. He then introduced a new constitution
with stronger presidential power and it was approved by referendum
on 12 December 1993 with 58.5% of voters in favour.
On 31 December 1999, Yeltsin made a surprise announcement of his resignation, leaving the presidency in the hands of his chosen successor, then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin
. Yeltsin left office widely unpopular with the Russian population. By some estimates, his approval ratings when leaving office were as low as 2%.
Early lifeBoris Yeltsin was born in the village of Butka, in Talitsky District
of Sverdlovsk Oblast
, Russian SFSR on 1 February 1931 . In 1932 after the state took away the entire harvest from the recently collectivised Butka peasants the Yeltsin family moved as far away as they could, to Kazan which was over 1,100 kilometres from Butka, where Boris` father, Nikolay Yeltsin, got work on a construction site. In 1934 Nikolai Yeltsin was convicted of anti-Soviet agitation
and sentenced to hard labour in a gulag
for three years. Following his release in 1936 after serving two years, Nikolai took his family to live in Berezniki
in Perm Krai
where his brother Ivan a blacksmith had been exiled the year before for failing to deliver his grain quota. Nikolai remained unemployed for a period of time and then worked again in construction. His mother, Klavdiya Vasilyevna Yeltsina, worked as a seamstress.
Boris Yeltsin studied at Pushkin High School
in Perm Krai
. He was fond of sports (in particular skiing
, gymnastics, volleyball, track and field, boxing
) despite losing the thumb and index finger of his left hand when he and some friends sneaked into a Red Army
supply depot, stole several grenades, and tried to dissect them.
In 1949 Yeltsin was admitted to the Ural State Technical University
, majoring in construction, and he graduated in 1955. The subject of his degree paper was "Television Tower".
From 1955 to 1957 he worked as a foreman with the building trust Uraltyazhtrubstroy. From 1957 to 1963 he worked in Sverdlovsk, and was promoted from construction site superintendent to chief of the Construction Directorate with the Yuzhgorstroy Trust. In 1963 he became chief engineer, and in 1965 head of the Sverdlovsk House-Building Combine, responsible for sewerage and technical plumbing. He joined the ranks of the CPSU
in 1968 when he was appointed head of construction with the Sverdlovsk Regional Party Committee. In 1975 he became secretary of the regional committee in charge of the region's industrial development. In 1976 the Politburo of the CPSU promoted him to the post of the first secretary of the CPSU Committee of Sverdlovsk Oblast
(effectively he became the head of one of the most important industrial regions in the USSR), he remained in this position until 1985.
Communist Party MemberYeltsin was a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
(CPSU) from 17 March 1961 to 13 July 1990, and a nomenklatura
member from 1968.
In 1977 as a party official in Sverdlovsk
, Yeltsin was—on orders from Moscow—ordered to execute the order to destroy the Ipatiev House
where the last Russian tsar
had been killed by Bolshevik
troops. The Ipatiev House
was demolished in one night, 27 July 1977. Also during Yeltsin's time in Sverdlovsk, a CPSU palace was built which was named "White Tooth" by the residents. During this time, Yeltsin developed connections with key people in the Soviet power structure. In January 1981 Yeltsin was awarded the Order of Lenin
, the Soviet Union`s highest medal, for 'the service to the Communist Party and the Soviet State and in connection with the 50th birthday'. In March 1981 Yeltsin was `elected` Full Member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
MoscowOn 11 March 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev
was elected General Secretary of the CPSU by the Politburo
after the death of Konstantin Chernenko
. Gorbachev's primary goal was to revive the Soviet economy however he soon realized that fixing the Soviet economy would be nearly impossible without reforming the political and social structure of the Communist nation. To begin these reforms he immediately began gathering in Moscow a younger and more energetic governing team of Communist Party members. On 4 April 1985 Yeltsin received a call from Gorbachev's leading protege Yegor Ligachev
summoning him to Moscow to take up position as Head of the Construction Department of the Party`s Central Committee. Less than three months later he was promoted to be Secretary for Construction of the Central Committee a position within the powerful CPSU Central Committee Secretariat.
On 23 December 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev
appointed Yeltsin First Secretary of the Moscow Communist Party
effectively `Mayor' of the Soviet capital, and as a result on 18 February 1986 Yeltsin was invited to become a Candidate (ie.non-voting) Member of the Politburo
. As a politburo member Yeltsin was also given a country house (dacha
), his was previously occupied by Gorbachev who now moved to a much bigger and more luxurious purpose built dacha nearby. During this period Yeltsin portrayed himself as a reformer and populist
(for example, he took a trolleybus
to work), firing and reshuffling his staff several times. His became popular among Moscow residents for firing corrupt Moscow party officials.
RebelOn 10 September 1987, after a lecture from hard-liner Yegor Ligachev
at the Politburo for allowing two small unsanctioned demonstrations on Moscow streets, Yeltsin wrote a letter of resignation to Gorbachev who was holidaying on the Black Sea . When Gorbachev received the letter he was stunned - nobody in Soviet history had voluntarily resigned from the ranks of the Politburo. Gorbachev phoned Yeltsin and asked him to reconsider. On 21 October 1987 at the plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the CPSU
, Yeltsin, frustrated that Gorbachev had not addressed any of the issues outlined in his resignation letter asked to speak. He expressed his discontent with both the slow pace of reform in society, the servility shown to the General Secretary, and opposition to him from Ligachev making his position untenable, before requesting to resign from the Politburo, adding that the City Committee would decide whether he should resign from the post of First Secretary of the Moscow Communist Party
. This was sensational. Besides the fact that nobody had ever quit the Politburo, no one in the party had ever had the audacity to address a leader of the party in such a manner in front of the Central Committee since Leon Trotsky in the 1920s. In his reply, Gorbachev accused Yeltsin of "political immaturity" and "absolute irresponsibility". Nobody in the Central Committee backed Yeltsin.
Within days news of Yeltsin's actions leaked and rumours of his 'secret speech' at the Central Committee spread throughout Moscow. Soon fabricated samizdat
versions began to circulate - this was the beginning of Yeltsin's rise as a rebel and growth in popularity as an anti-establishment figure. Gorbachev called a meeting of the Moscow City Party Committee for the 11 November 1987 to launch another crushing attack on Yeltsin and confirm his dismissal. On 09 November 1987 Yeltsin apparently tried to kill himself and was rushed to hospital bleeding profusely from self-inflicted cuts to his chest. Gorbachev ordered the injured Yeltsin from his hospital bed to the Moscow party plenum two days later where he was ritually denounced by the party faithful in what was reminiscent of a Stalinist show trial before he he was fired from the post of First Secretary of the Moscow Communist Party
. Yeltsin would never forgive Gorbachev for this 'immoral and inhuman' treatment. .
Yeltsin was demoted to the position of First Deputy Commissioner for the State Committee for Construction. At the next meeting of the Central Committee on 14 February 1988 Yeltsin was removed from his position as a Candidate member the Politburo. He was perturbed and humiliated but began plotting his revenge. His opportunity came with Gorbachev's establishment of the Congress of People's Deputies. He recovered, and started intensively criticizing Gorbachev, highlighting the slow pace of reform in the Soviet Union as his major argument.
Yeltsin's criticism of the Politburo and Gorbachev led to a smear campaign against him, in which examples of Yeltsin's awkward behavior were used against him. An article published in Pravda
described him as being drunk at a lecture during his visit to the United States, an allegation which appeared to be confirmed by a TV account of his speech. However, popular dissatisfaction with the regime was very strong, and these attempts to smear Yeltsin only added to his popularity. In another incident, Yeltsin fell from a bridge. Commenting on this event, Yeltsin hinted that he was helped to fall from the bridge by the enemies of perestroika
, but his opponents suggested that he was simply drunk.
On 26 March 1989, Yeltsin was elected
to the Congress of People's Deputies of the Soviet Union
as the delegate from Moscow district with a hugely decisive 92% of the vote and on 29 May 1989 was elected by the Congress of People's Deputies to a seat on the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union. On 19 July 1989 Yeltsin announced the formation of the radical pro-reform faction in the Congress of People's Deputies: the Inter-Regional Group of Deputies, and on 29 July 1989 was elected one of the five co-Chairman of the Inter-Regional Group.
President of the RSFSR
(RSFSR), in spite of the fact that Gorbachev personally pleaded with the Russian deputies not to select Yeltsin. He was supported by both democratic and conservative members of the Supreme Soviet, which sought power in the developing political situation in the country. A part of this power struggle was the opposition between power structures of the Soviet Union
and the RSFSR
. In an attempt to gain more power, on 12 June 1990, the Congress of People's Deputies of the RSFSR adopted a declaration of sovereignty. On 12 July 1990, Yeltsin resigned from the CPSU in a dramatic speech before party members at the 28th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, some of whom responded by shouting "Shame!"
On 12 June 1991, Yeltsin won 57% of the popular vote in the democratic presidential elections for the Russian republic
, defeating Gorbachev's preferred candidate, Nikolai Ryzhkov
who got just 16% of the vote. In his election campaign, Yeltsin criticized the "dictatorship of the center", but did not suggest the introduction of a market economy. Instead, he said that he would put his head on the railtrack in the event of increased prices. Yeltsin took office on 10 July, and reappointed Ivan Silayev
as Chairman of the Council of Ministers – Government
of the Russian SFSR
On 18 August 1991, a coup against Gorbachev
was launched by the government members opposed to perestroika. Gorbachev was held in Crimea
while Yeltsin raced to the White House of Russia (residence of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR) in Moscow to defy the coup, making a memorable speech from atop the turret of a tank onto which he had climbed. The White House was surrounded by the military but the troops defected in the face of mass popular demonstrations. By 21 August most of the coup leaders had fled Moscow and Gorbachev was "rescued" from Crimea
and then returned to Moscow. Yeltsin was subsequently hailed by his supporters around the world for rallying mass opposition to the coup.
Although restored to his position, Gorbachev's powers were now fatally compromised. Neither union nor Russian power structures heeded his commands as support had swung over to Yeltsin. Through the fall of 1991, the Russian government took over the union government, ministry by ministry.
On 6 November 1991, Yeltsin issued a decree banning the Communist Party throughout the RSFSR.
In early December 1991, Ukraine voted for independence from the Soviet Union. A week later, on 8 December, Yeltsin met Ukrainian president Leonid Kravchuk
and the leader of Belarus, Stanislav Shushkevich
, in Belovezhskaya Pushcha, where the three presidents announced the dissolution of the Soviet Union
and that they would establish a voluntary Commonwealth of Independent States
(CIS) in its place. According to Mikhail Gorbachev
, the president of the Soviet Union
at that time, Yeltsin kept the plans of the Belovezhskaya meeting in strict secrecy and the main goal of the dissolution of the Soviet Union was to get rid of Gorbachev, who by that time had started to recover his position after the events of August. Mikhail Gorbachev
has also accused Yeltsin of violating the people's will expressed in the referendum in which the majority voted to keep the Soviet Union
On 24 December, the Russian Federation took the Soviet Union's seat in the United Nations. The next day, President Gorbachev resigned and the Soviet Union ceased to exist
, thereby ending the world's largest and most influential socialist state. Economic relations between the former Soviet republics were severely compromised. Millions of ethnic Russians found themselves in the newly formed foreign countries.
Radical reformsJust days after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Boris Yeltsin resolved to embark on a program of radical economic reform, with the aim of restructuring Russia's economic system—converting the world's largest command economy into a free-market one. During early discussions of this transition, Yeltsin's advisers debated issues of speed and sequencing, with an apparent division between those favoring a rapid approach and those favoring a gradual or slower approach.
In late 1991 Yeltsin turned to the advice of Western economists, and Western institutions such as the International Monetary Fund
, the World Bank
, and the U.S. Treasury Department, who had developed a standard policy recipe for transition economies in the late 1980s. This policy recipe came to be known as the "Washington Consensus
" or "shock therapy
", a combination of measures intended to liberalize prices and stabilize the state's budget. Such measures had been attempted in Poland, and advocates of "shock therapy" felt the same could be done in Russia. Some Russian policymakers were skeptical that this was the way to go, but the approach was favored by Yeltsin's deputy, Yegor Gaidar
, a 35-year-old Russian economist inclined toward radical reform.
On 2 January 1992, Yeltsin, acting as his own prime minister
, ordered the liberalization of foreign trade, prices, and currency. At the same time, Yeltsin followed a policy of 'macroeconomic stabilization,' a harsh austerity regime designed to control inflation. Under Yeltsin's stabilization program, interest rates were raised to extremely high levels to tighten money and restrict credit. To bring state spending and revenues into balance, Yeltsin raised new taxes heavily, cut back sharply on government subsidies to industry and construction, and made steep cuts to state welfare spending.
In early 1992, prices skyrocketed throughout Russia, and deep credit crunch shut down many industries and brought about a protracted depression. The reforms devastated the living standards of much of the population, especially the groups dependent on Soviet-era state subsidies and welfare entitlement programs. Through the 1990s, Russia's GDP fell by 50 percent, vast sectors of the economy were wiped out, inequality and unemployment grew dramatically, while incomes fell. Hyperinflation
, caused by the Central Bank of Russia's loose monetary policy, wiped out a lot of personal savings, and tens of millions of Russians
were plunged into poverty.
Some economists argue that in the 1990s Russia suffered an economic downturn more severe than the United States or Germany had undergone six decades earlier in the Great Depression
. Russian commentators and even some Western economists, such as Marshall Goldman
, widely blamed Yeltsin's Western-backed economic program for the country's disastrous economic performance in the 1990s. Many politicians began to quickly distance themselves from the program. In February 1992, Russia's vice president, Alexander Rutskoy
denounced the Yeltsin program as "economic genocide." By 1993 conflict over the reform direction escalated between Yeltsin on the one side, and the opposition to radical economic reform in Russia's parliament on the other.
Confrontation with parliamentAlso throughout 1992, Yeltsin wrestled with the Supreme Soviet of Russia
and the Congress of People's Deputies for control over government, government policy, government banking and property. In the course of 1992, the speaker of the Russian Supreme Soviet, Ruslan Khasbulatov
, came out in opposition to the reforms, despite claiming to support Yeltsin's overall goals. In December 1992, the 7th Congress of People's Deputies succeeded in turning down the Yeltsin-backed candidacy of Yegor Gaidar for the position of Russian prime minister
. An agreement was brokered by Valery Zorkin
, chairman of the Constitutional Court, which included the following provisions: a national referendum on the new constitution; parliament and Yeltsin would choose a new head of government, to be confirmed by the Supreme Soviet; and the parliament was to cease making constitutional amendments that change the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches. Eventually, on 14 December, Viktor Chernomyrdin
, widely seen as a compromise figure, was confirmed in the office.
The conflict escalated soon, however, with the parliament changing its prior decision to hold a referendum.
Yeltsin, in his turn, announced in a televised address to the nation on 20 March 1993, that he was going to assume certain "special powers" in order to implement his program of reforms. In response, the hastily called 9th Congress of People's Deputies attempted to remove Yeltsin from presidency through impeachment on 26 March 1993. Yeltsin's opponents gathered more than 600 votes for impeachment, but fell 72 votes short of the required two-thirds majority.
During the summer of 1993, a situation of dual power
developed in Russia. Since July, two separate administrations of the Chelyabinsk Oblast
functioned side by side, after Yeltsin refused to accept the newly elected pro-parliament head of the region. The Supreme Soviet pursued its own foreign policies, passing a declaration on the status of Sevastopol
In August, a commentator reflected on the situation as follows: "The President issues decrees as if there were no Supreme Soviet, and the Supreme Soviet suspends decrees as if there were no President." (Izvestiya, 13 August 1993).
On 21 September 1993 Yeltsin announced in a televised address his decision to disband the Supreme Soviet and Congress of People's Deputies by decree.
In his address Yeltsin declared his intent to rule by decree until the election of the new parliament and a referendum on a new constitution, triggering the constitutional crisis of October 1993
. On the night after Yeltsin's televised address, the Supreme Soviet declared Yeltsin removed from presidency, by virtue of his breaching the constitution, and Vice-President Alexander Rutskoy was sworn in as the acting president.
Between 21–24 September Yeltsin was confronted by significant popular unrest, encouraging the defenders of the parliament. Moscow saw what amounted to a spontaneous mass uprising of anti-Yeltsin demonstrators numbering in the tens of thousands marching in the streets resolutely seeking to aid forces defending the parliament building. The demonstrators were protesting the new and terrible living conditions under Yeltsin. Since 1989 GDP had declined by half. Corruption was rampant, violent crime was skyrocketing, medical services were collapsing, food and fuel were increasingly scarce and life expectancy was falling for all but a tiny handful of the population; moreover, Yeltsin was increasingly getting the blame.
By early October, Yeltsin had secured the support of Russia's army and ministry of interior forces. In a massive show of force, Yeltsin called up tanks to shell the Russian White House, Russia's parliament building. The attack on Russia's parliament building left 500 people dead and injured 1000 more.
As Supreme Soviet was dissolved, in December 1993 elections to the newly established parliament, the State Duma
, were held. Candidates associated with Yeltsin's economic policies were overwhelmed by a huge anti-Yeltsin vote, the bulk of which was divided between the Communist Party
and ultra-nationalists. The referendum, however, held at the same time, approved the new constitution, which significantly expanded the powers of the president, giving Yeltsin a right to appoint the members of the government, to dismiss the prime minister
and, in some cases, to dissolve the Duma.
ChechnyaIn December 1994, Yeltsin ordered the military invasion of Chechnya
in an attempt to restore Moscow's control over the republic. Nearly two years later Yeltsin withdrew federal forces from the devastated Chechnya under a 1996 peace agreement brokered by Alexander Lebed, then Yeltsin's security chief. The peace deal allowed Chechnya greater autonomy but not full independence.
The decision to launch the war in Chechnya dismayed many in the West. TIME magazine wrote:
"Then, what was to be made of Boris Yeltsin? Clearly he could no longer be regarded as the democratic hero of Western myth. But had he become an old- style communist boss, turning his back on the democratic reformers he once championed and throwing in his lot with militarists and ultranationalists? Or was he a befuddled, out-of-touch chief being manipulated, knowingly or unwittingly, by– well, by whom exactly? If there was to be a dictatorial coup, would Yeltsin be its victim or its leader?"
Privatization and the rise of "the oligarchs"Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Yeltsin promoted privatization
as a way of spreading ownership of shares in former state enterprises as widely as possible to create political support for his economic reforms. In the West, privatization was viewed as the key to the transition from Communism in Eastern Europe, ensuring a quick dismantling of the Soviet-era command economy to make way for 'free market reforms.' In the early 1990s, Anatoly Chubais
, Yeltsin's deputy for economic policy, emerged as a leading advocate of privatization in Russia.
In late 1992, Yeltsin launched a program of free vouchers as a way to give mass privatization a jump-start. Under the program, all Russian citizens were issued vouchers, each with a nominal value of around 10,000 rubles, for purchase of shares of select state enterprises. Although each citizen initially received a voucher of equal face value, within months most of them converged in the hands of intermediaries who were ready to buy them for cash right away.
In 1995, as Yeltsin struggled to finance Russia's growing foreign debt and gain support from the Russian business elite for his bid in the early-1996 presidential elections, the Russian president prepared for a new wave of privatization offering stock shares in some of Russia's most valuable state enterprises in exchange for bank loans. The program was promoted as a way of simultaneously speeding up privatization and ensuring the government a much-needed infusion of cash for its operating needs.
However, the deals were effectively giveaways of valuable state assets to a small group of tycoons in finance, industry, energy, telecommunications, and the media who came to be known as "oligarchs
" in the mid-1990s. This was due to the fact that ordinary people sold their vouchers for cash. The vouchers were bought out by a small group of investors. By mid-1996, substantial ownership shares over major firms were acquired at very low prices by a handful of people. Boris Berezovsky, who controlled major stakes in several banks and the national media, emerged as one of Yeltsin's most prominent backers. Along with Berezovsky, Mikhail Khodorkovsky
, Vladimir Potanin
, Vladimir Bogdanov
, Rem Viakhirev
, Vagit Alekperov
, Alexander Smolensky
, Victor Vekselberg, Mikhail Fridman
and a few years later Roman Abramovich
, were habitually mentioned in the media as Russia's oligarchs.
KAL 007On 5 December 1991, Senator Jesse Helms
, ranking member of the Minority on the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, wrote to Boris Yeltsin concerning U.S. servicemen who were POWs or MIAs. "The status of thousands and thousands of American servicemen who are held by Soviet and other Communist forces, and who were never repatriated after every major war this century, is of grave concern to the American people."
Yeltsin would ultimately respond with a statement made on 15 June 1992, while being interviewed aboard his presidential jet on his way to the United States, "Our archives have shown that it is true — some of them were transferred to the territory of the U.S.S.R. and were kept in labor camps... We can only surmise that some of them may still be alive.".
On 10 December 1991, just five days after Senator Helms had written Yeltsin concerning American servicemen, he again wrote to Yeltsin, this time concerning Korean Air Lines Flight 007 (KAL 007) requesting information concerning possible survivors, including Congressman from Georgia Larry McDonald
, and their whereabouts.
"One of the greatest tragedies of the Cold War was the shoot-down of the Korean Airlines Flight 007 by the Armed Forces of what was then the Soviet Union on 1 September 1983... The KAL-007 tragedy was one of the most tense incidences of the entire Cold War. However, now that relations between our two nations have improved substantially, I believe that it is time to resolve the mysteries surrounding this event. Clearing the air on this issue could help further to improve relations." In March 1992, Yeltsin would hand over KAL 007's Black Box without its tapes to Korean President Roh Tae-Woo
at the end of the plenary session of the Korean National Assembly with this statement, "We apologize for the tragedy and are trying to settle some unsolved issues."
Yeltsin would ultimately respond on 8 January 1992 by handing over to the International Civil Aviation Organization
(ICAO) of the United Nations what the Russians had for so many years denied possessing: the tapes of the KAL 007's "Black Box" (its Digital
Flight Data Recorder
and Cockpit Voice Recorder
The openness of Yeltsin about POW/MIA and KAL 007 matters may also have signaled his willingness for more openness to the West. In 1992, which he labelled the "window of opportunity", he was willing to discuss biological weapons with the U.S. and admitted that the Sverdlovsk anthrax leak
of 2 April 1979 had been caused as a result of a mishap at a military facility. The Russian government had maintained that the cause was contaminated meat. The true number of victims in the anthrax outbreak at Sverdlovsk, about 850 miles (1,368 km) east of Moscow, is not known.
1996 presidential electionIn February 1996, Yeltsin announced that he would seek a second term in the spring 1996 Russian presidential election
. The announcement followed weeks of speculation that Yeltsin was at the end of his political career because of his health problems and growing unpopularity in Russia. At the time Yeltsin was recuperating from a series of heart attacks. Domestic and international observers also noted his occasionally erratic behaviour. When campaigning opened at the beginning of 1996, Yeltsin's popularity was close to zero. Meanwhile, the opposition Communist Party of the Russian Federation
had already gained ground in parliamentary voting on 17 December 1995, and its candidate, Gennady Zyuganov
, had a strong grass roots organization, especially in the rural areas and small towns, and appealed effectively to memories of the old days of Soviet prestige on the international stage and the socialist domestic order.
Panic struck the Yeltsin team when opinion polls suggested that the ailing president could not win; some members of his entourage urged him to cancel presidential elections and effectively rule as dictator from then on. Instead, Yeltsin changed his campaign team, assigning a key role to his daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko
, and appointing Chubais as campaign manager. Chubais, acting as both Yeltsin's campaign manager and adviser on Russia's privatisation programme, used his control of the privatisation programme as an instrument of Yeltsin's reelection campaign.
In the spring of 1996, Chubais and Yeltsin recruited a team of a handful of financial and media oligarchs to bankroll the Yeltsin campaign and guaranteed favorable media coverage the president on national television and in leading newspapers. In return, Chubais allowed well-connected Russian business leaders to acquire majority stakes in some of Russia's most valuable state-owned assets. The media painted a picture of a fateful choice for Russia, between Yeltsin and a "return to totalitarianism." The oligarchs even played up the threat of civil war if a Communist were elected president.
Zyuganov, who lacked Yeltsin's resources and financial backing, saw his strong initial lead whittled away. After the first round on 16 June Yeltsin appointed a highly popular candidate Alexander Lebed, who came in third in the first round, Secretary of the Security Council of Russia
, sacked at the latter's behest defence minister Pavel Grachev
and on 20 June sacked a number of his siloviki, one of them being his chief of presidential security Alexander Korzhakov
, viewed by many as Yeltsin's éminence grise.
In the run-off on 3 July, with a turnout of 68.9%, Yeltsin won 53.8% of the vote and Zyuganov 40.3%, with the rest (5.9%) voting "against all".
Yeltsin's second termIn July 1996, Yeltsin was re-elected as president with financial support from influential business oligarchs who owed their wealth to their connections with Yeltsin's administration. Despite only gaining 35% of the first round vote in the 1996 elections, Yeltsin defeated his communist rival Gennady Zyuganov
with 54% in the runoff election. Later that year, Yeltsin underwent an emergency quintuple heart bypass surgery and remained in the hospital for months.
During Yeltsin's presidency, Russia received US$40 billion in funds from the International Monetary Fund
and other international lending organizations. However, his opponents allege that most of these funds were stolen by people from Yeltsin's circle and placed in foreign banks.
In 1998, a political and economic crisis emerged when Yeltsin's government defaulted on its debts, causing financial markets to panic and the ruble
to collapse in the 1998 financial crisis.
During the 1999 Kosovo war
, Yeltsin strongly opposed the NATO military campaign against Yugoslavia, and warned of possible Russian intervention if NATO deployed ground troops to Kosovo. In televised comments he stated: "I told NATO, the Americans, the Germans: Don't push us toward military action. Otherwise there will be a European war for sure and possibly world war."
, this time by the democratic
opposition in the State Duma
. He was charged with several unconstitutional activities, including the signing of the Belavezha Accords
, dissolving the Soviet Union
in December 1991, the coup-d'état in October 1993, and initiating the war in Chechnya
in 1994. None of these charges received the two-thirds majority of the Duma which was required to initiate the process of impeachment
of the president.
On 9 August 1999 Yeltsin fired his prime minister, Sergei Stepashin
, and for the fourth time, fired his entire cabinet. In Stepashin's place he appointed Vladimir Putin
, relatively unknown at that time, and announced his wish to see Putin as his successor.
In late 1999 Yeltsin and President Clinton openly disagreed on the war in Chechnya. At the November meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Clinton pointed his finger at Yeltsin and demanded he halt bombing attacks that had resulted in many civilian casualties. Yeltsin immediately left the conference.
In December while visiting China to seek support on Chechnya, Yeltsin replied to Clinton’s criticism of a Russian ultimatum to citizens of Grozny. He bluntly pronounced: "Yesterday, Clinton permitted himself to put pressure on Russia. It seems he has for a minute, for a second, for half a minute, forgotten that Russia has a full arsenal of nuclear weapons. He has forgotten about that." Clinton dismissed Yeltsin's comments stating: "I didn't think he'd forgotten that America was a great power when he disagreed with what I did in Kosovo." It fell to Vladimir Putin to downplay Yeltsin's comments and present reassurances about U.S. and Russian relations.
had taken over as acting president, with elections due to take place on 26 March 2000. Yeltsin asked for forgiveness for what he acknowledged were errors of his rule, and said Russia needed to enter the new century with new political leaders. Yeltsin said: "I want to beg forgiveness for your dreams that never came true. And also I would like to beg forgiveness not to have justified your hopes."
Yeltsin's alcoholism and neurological disorderAccording to numerous reports, Yeltsin struggled with alcoholism. The subject made headlines abroad during Yeltsin's visit to the U.S. in 1989 for a series of lectures on social and political life in the Soviet Union. That trip was described by a report in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica
. The article reported that Yeltsin often appeared drunk in public. The article was reprinted by Pravda
. Yeltsin's alleged alcoholism was also the subject of media discussion following his meeting with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott
following Clinton's inauguration in 1993 and after his flight stop-over at Shannon Airport
, Ireland in September 1994 when the waiting Irish Taoiseach (prime minister) Albert Reynolds
was told that Yeltsin was unwell and would not be leaving the aircraft. Reynolds tried to make excuses for him in an effort to offset his own humiliation in vainly waiting outside the plane to meet him. Speaking to the media in March 2010, Yeltsin's daughter Tatyana Yumasheva, claimed that her father suffered a heart attack on the flight from the United States to Moscow and was therefore not in the position to leave the plane.
According to former Deputy Prime Minister of Russia Boris Nemtsov
, the bizarre behavior of Yeltsin resulted from "strong drugs" given to him by Kremlin's doctors, which were incompatible even with a small amount of alcohol. This was discussed by journalist Yelena Tregubova
from the "Kremlin's pool" in connection with an episode during Yeltsin's visit to Stockholm
in 1997 when Yeltsin suddenly started talking nonsense (he allegedly told his bemused audience that Swedish meatballs reminded him of Björn Borg
's face), lost his balance, and almost fell down on the podium after drinking a single glass of Champagne. Yeltsin, in his memoirs, claimed no recollection of the event but did make a passing reference to the incident when he met Borg a year later at The World Circle Kabaddi Cup in Hamilton, Ontario, where the pair had been invited to present the trophy. Similarly, Yeltsin made a hasty withdrawal from the funeral of King Hussein of Jordan
in February 1999.
After Yeltsin's death, a Dutch neurosurgeon revealed that his team was secretly flown to Moscow to operate on Yeltsin in 1999. Yeltsin suffered from an unspecified neurological disorder that affected his sense of balance, causing him to wobble as if in a drunken state; the goal of the operation was to reduce the pain.
According to author and historian Taylor Branch
's interviews with Bill Clinton
, on a 1995 visit to Washington D.C., Yeltsin was found on Pennsylvania Avenue, drunk, in his underwear and trying to hail a cab in order to find pizza.
Life after resignation
Starting in the last years of his presidential term, Yeltsin's primary residence was the Gorki-9 presidential dacha west of Moscow. He made frequent stays at the nearby government sanatorium in Barvikha
Yeltsin maintained a low profile after his resignation, making almost no public statements or appearances. However, on 13 September 2004, following the Beslan school hostage crisis
and nearly concurrent terrorist attacks in Moscow, Putin launched an initiative to replace the election of regional governors with a system whereby they would be directly appointed by the president and approved by regional legislatures. Yeltsin, together with Mikhail Gorbachev
, publicly criticized Putin's plan as a step away from democracy in Russia and a return to the centrally run political apparatus of the Soviet era.
In September 2005, Yeltsin underwent a hip operation in Moscow after breaking his femur
in a fall while vacationing on the Italian island of Sardinia
On 1 February 2006, Yeltsin celebrated his 75th birthday. He used this occasion as an opportunity to criticize a "monopolistic" U.S. foreign policy, and to state that Vladimir Putin
was the right choice for Russia. He also disputed accusations of corruption.
on 23 April 2007 at the age of 76. According to experts quoted by Komsomolskaya Pravda
, the onset of Yeltsin's condition was due to his visit to Jordan between 25 March and 2 April. He was buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery
on 25 April 2007, following a period during which his body had lain in state
in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour
Yeltsin was the first Russian statesman in 113 years to be buried in a church ceremony, after Emperor Alexander III
. He was also the first leader in Russian and Soviet history to die quietly in retirement having overseen a peaceful transfer to his successor, Lenin
not having appointed a successor upon his death and Khrushchev
President Putin declared the day of his funeral a national day of mourning
, with flags flown at half-staff and all entertainment programs suspended for the day.
Yeltsin is survived by his wife, Naina Iosifovna Yeltsina
, whom he married in 1956, and their two daughters Yelena and Tatyana
, born in 1957 and 1959 respectively.
Russian president Vladimir Putin
said, declaring 25 April 2007, a day of national mourning, that:
Yeltsin's "presidency has inscribed him forever in Russian and in world history." ... "A new democratic Russia was born during his time: a free, open and peaceful country. A state in which the power truly does belong to the people." ... "the first President of Russia’s strength consisted in the mass support of Russian citizens for his ideas and aspirations. Thanks to the will and direct initiative of President Boris Yeltsin a new constitution, one which declared human rights a supreme value, was adopted. It gave people the opportunity to freely express their thoughts, to freely choose power in Russia, to realise their creative and entrepreneurial plans. This Constitution permitted us to begin building a truly effective Federation." ... "We knew (Yeltsin) as a brave and a warm-hearted, spiritual person. He was an upstanding and courageous national leader. And he was always very honest and frank while defending his position." ... "(Yeltsin) assumed full responsibility for everything he called for, for everything he aspired to. For everything he tried to do and did do for the sake of Russia, for the sake of millions of Russians. And he invariably took upon himself, let it in his heart, all the trials and tribulations of Russia, peoples’ difficulties and problems."
Shortly after the news broke, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev
issued a statement, saying:
"I offer my deepest condolences to the family of a man on whose shoulders rested many great deeds for the good of the country and serious mistakes—a tragic fate".
MemorialIn April 2008, a new memorial to Yeltsin was dedicated in Moscow's Novodevichy cemetery
, to mixed reactions.
At the memorial service, a military chorus performed Russia's national anthem — an anthem that was changed shortly after the end of Yeltsin's term, to follow the music
of the old Soviet anthem
, with lyrics reflecting Russia's new status.
- Dissolution of the Soviet UnionDissolution of the Soviet UnionThe dissolution of the Soviet Union was the disintegration of the federal political structures and central government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , resulting in the independence of all fifteen republics of the Soviet Union between March 11, 1990 and December 25, 1991...
- History of the Soviet UnionHistory of the Soviet UnionThe history of the Soviet Union has roots in the Russian Revolution of 1917. The Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, emerged as the main political force in the capital of the former Russian Empire, though they had to fight a long and brutal civil war against the Mensheviks, or Whites...
- Mikhael Gorbachev
- President of Russia
- YeltsinismYeltsinismYeltsinism is a term sometimes used to denote the political and economic policies of Boris Yeltsin, after he became the effective ruler of Russia following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991. The term "Yeltsinism" is most often used with a negative connotation...
- Aron, Leon. Boris Yeltsin : A Revolutionary Life. Harper Collins (2000). ISBN 0-00-653041-9
- O'Clery, ConorConor O'CleryConor O'Clery is an Irish journalist and writer. He was born in Belfast and educated at Queen's University Belfast. He worked for The Irish Times for over 30 years in various positions, including news editor and foreign correspondent based in London, Moscow, Washington, D.C., Beijing and New York...
. Moscow December 25 1991: The Last Day of the Soviet Union. Transworld Ireland (2011). ISBN 978-1-848-27112-8