Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin (Russian: Бори́с Никола́евич Е́льцин, IPA: [bɐˈrʲis nʲɪkɐˈlaɪvʲɪtɕ ˈjelʲtsɨn] (
Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin
|President of Russia|
10 July 1991 – 31 December 1999
|Vice President||Alexander Rutskoy (1991–1993)|
|Succeeded by||Vladimir Putin|
|Head of Government of Russia as President of the Russian Federation|
6 November 1991 – 15 May 1992
|Preceded by||Oleg Lobov (acting)|
(Chairman of the Council of Ministers — Government of the Russian SFSR)
|Succeeded by||Yegor Gaidar (acting)|
(Prime Minister of the Russian Federation)
|Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian SFSR|
30 May 1969 – 10 July 1991
|Preceded by||Vitaly Vorotnikov|
|Succeeded by||Ruslan Khasbulatov|
|First Secretary of the Moscow City Committee of the Communist Party|
23 December 1985 – 11 November 1987
(Party General Secretary)
|Preceded by||Viktor Grishin|
|Succeeded by||Lev Zaykov|
Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin
1 February 1931
Butka, Ural Oblast, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
|Died||23 April 2007 76) (aged|
|Resting place||Novodevichy Cemetery|
|Political party||Independent (after 1990)|
|Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1961–1990)|
Naina Yeltsina (m. 1956)
|Children||2, including Tatyana Yumasheva|
|Alma mater||Ural State Technical University|
Born in Butka, Sverdlovsk Oblast to a peasant family, Yeltsin grew up in Kazan. After studying at the Ural State Technical University, he worked in construction. Joining the Communist Party, which governed the Soviet Union as a one-party state according to Marxist-Leninist doctrine, he rose through its ranks and in 1976 became First Secretary of the party's Sverdlovsk Oblast committee. Initially a supporter of the perestroika reforms of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Yeltsin later criticised them as being too moderate, calling for a transition to a multi-party representative democracy. In 1987 he was the first person to resign from the party's governing Politburo, establishing his popularity as an anti-establishment figure. In 1990, he was elected chair of the Russian Supreme Soviet and in 1991 was elected president of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR). Allying with various non-Russian nationalist leaders, he was instrumental in the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union in December that year, at which the RSFSR became the Russian Federation, an independent state. Yeltsin remained in office as president and was reelected in the 1996 election, although critics claimed pervasive electoral corruption.
Yeltsin transformed Russia's state socialist economy into a capitalist market economy by implementing economic shock therapy, market exchange rate of the ruble, nationwide privatization, and lifting of price controls. Economic collapse and inflation ensued. Amid the economic shift, a small number of oligarchs obtained a majority of the national property and wealth, while international monopolies came to dominate the market. During the 1993 Russian constitutional crisis, Yeltsin ordered the unconstitutional dissolution of the Supreme Soviet parliament, which responded by attempting to remove him from office. In October 1993, troops loyal to Yeltsin stopped an armed uprising outside of the parliament building; he then introduced a new constitution. Secessionist sentiment in the Russian Caucasus led to the First Chechen War, War of Dagestan, and Second Chechen War between 1994 and 1999. Internationally, Yeltsin promoted renewed collaboration with Europe and signed arms control agreements with the United States. Amid growing internal pressure, in 1999 he resigned and was succeeded by his chosen successor, former Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Out of office, he kept a low profile and was later given a state funeral.
Yeltsin was a controversial figure. Domestically he was highly popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s, although his reputation was damaged by the economic and political crises of his presidency and he left office widely unpopular with the Russian population. He received praise for his role in dismantling the Soviet Union, transforming Russia into a representative democracy, and introducing new political, economic, and cultural freedoms to the country. Conversely, he was accused of economic mismanagement, overseeing a massive growth in inequality and corruption, and of undermining Russia's standing as a major world power.
Boris Yeltsin was born on 1 February 1931 in the village of Butka, Talitsky District, Sverdlovsk, then in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, one of the constituent republics of the Soviet Union. His family, who were ethnic Russians, had lived in this area of the Urals since at least the eighteenth century. His father, Nikolai Yeltsin, had married his mother, Klavdiya Vasil'evna Starygina, in 1928. Yeltsin always remained closer to his mother than his father; the latter beat both his wife and children on various occasions.
The Soviet Union was then under the rule of Joseph Stalin, who led the one-party state governed by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Seeking to convert the country into a socialist society according to Marxist-Leninist doctrine, in the late 1920s Stalin's government had initiated a project of mass rural collectivisation coupled with dekulakization. As a prosperous farmer, Yeltsin's paternal grandfather, Ignatii, was accused of being a "kulak" in 1930. His farm, which was in Basmanovo, was confiscated and he and his family were forced to reside in a cottage in nearby Butka. There, Nikolai and Ignatii's other children were allowed to join the local kolkhoz (collective farm), but Ignatii himself was not; he and his wife Anna were exiled to Nadezhdinsk in 1934, where he died two years later.
As an infant, Yeltsin was christened into the Russian Orthodox Church; his mother was devout but his father unobservant. In the years following his birth, the area was hit by the famine of 1932–33; throughout his childhood, Yeltsin was often hungry. In 1932, Yeltsin's parents moved to Kazan, where Yeltsin went to kindergarten. There, in 1934, the OGPU arrested Nikolai and sentenced him to three years in the Dmitrov labour camp, accused of anti-Soviet agitation. Yeltsin and his mother were then ejected from their residence but taken in by friends; Klavdiya worked at a garment factory in her husband's absence. In October 1936, Nikolai returned and in July 1937, the couple's second child, Mikhail, was born. That month, they moved to Berezniki in Perm Krai, where Nikolai got work on a potash combine project. There, in July 1944, they had a third child, the daughter Valentina.
Between 1939 and 1945, Yeltsin received a primary education at Berezniki's Railway School Number 95. Academically, he did well at primary school and was repeatedly elected class monitor by fellow pupils. There, he also took part in activities organised by the Komsomol and Vladimir Lenin All-Union Pioneer Organization. From 1945 to 1949, Yeltsin studied at the municipal secondary school number 1, also known as Pushkin High School. This overlapped with Soviet involvement in the Second World War, during which Yeltsin's paternal uncle, Andrian, served in the Red Army and was killed. Yeltsin again did well at secondary school, and there took an increasing interest in sport, becoming captain of the school's volleyball squad. He enjoyed playing pranks and in one instance played with a grenade, resulting in the thumb and index finger on his left hand being blown off. With friends, he would go on summer walking expeditions in the adjacent taiga, sometimes for many weeks.
University and career in construction: 1949–1955
In September 1949, Yeltsin was admitted to the Ural Polytechnic Institute in Sverdlovsk. He took the stream in industrial and civil engineering, which included courses in maths, physics, materials and soil science, and draftsmanship. He was also required to study Marxist-Leninist doctrine and choose a language course, for which he selected German, although never became adept at it. Tuition was free and he was provided a small stipend to live on, which he supplemented by unloading railway trucks for a small wage. Academically, he achieved high grades, although temporarily dropped out in 1952 when afflicted with tonsillitis and rheumatic fever. He devoted much time to athletics, and joined the UPI volleyball team. He avoided any involvement in political organisations while there. During the summer 1953 break, he travelled across the Soviet Union, touring the Volga, central Russia, Belorussia, Ukraine, and Georgia; much of the travel was achieved by hitchhiking on freight trains. It was at UPI that he began a relationship with Naina Iosifovna Girina, a fellow student who would later become his wife. Yeltsin completed his studies in June 1955.
In 1955 he was assigned to work with the Lower Iset Construction Directorate in Sverdlovsk, initially as a trainee in various building trades. He quickly rose through the organisation's ranks. In June 1956 he was promoted foreman (master), and in June 1957 to work superintendent (prorab). In June 1958 he became a senior work superintendent (starshii prorab) and in January 1960 was made head engineer (glavni inzhener) of Construction Directorate Number 13. In February 1962 he was promoted chief (nachal'nik) of the directorate. During this period he was largely involved in building residential housing, the expansion of which was a major priority for the government.
He joined the ranks of the CPSU nomenklatura 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 membership
In 1977, as a party official in Sverdlovsk, Yeltsin was ordered by Moscow to destroy the Ipatiev House where the last Russian tsar and his family had been killed by Bolshevik troops. The Ipatiev House was demolished in one night on 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 as a full member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
On 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 came to believe that fixing the Soviet economy would be nearly impossible without reforming the political and social structure of the USSR. To begin implementation of these reforms, he immediately began gathering a younger and more energetic governing team of Communist Party members in Moscow. On 4 April 1985, Yeltsin received a call from Gorbachev's leading protege Yegor Ligachyov 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 as First Secretary of the CPSU Moscow City Committee, effectively "Mayor" of the Soviet capital, and as a result, on 18 February 1986, Yeltsin was invited to become a Candidate (non-voting) Member of the Politburo. As a politburo member, Yeltsin was also given a country house (dacha) which 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 a populist (for example, he took a trolleybus to work), firing and reshuffling his staff several times. He became popular among Moscow residents for firing corrupt Moscow party officials.
On 10 September 1987, after a lecture from hard-liner Yegor Ligachyov 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 27 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 the slow pace of reform in society, the servility shown to the general secretary, and opposition to him from Ligachyov 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. Aside from the fact that no one had ever quit the Politburo before, no one in the party had ever addressed 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 11 November 1987 to launch another crushing attack on Yeltsin and confirm his dismissal. On 9 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 was fired from the post of First Secretary of the Moscow Communist Party. Yeltsin said he 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 24 February 1988, Yeltsin was removed from his position as a Candidate member of 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. Yeltsin 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. Speaking at the CPSU conference in 1988, Yegor Ligachyov stated, "Boris, you are wrong". An article in Pravda described Yeltsin as drunk at a lecture during his visit to the United States in September 1989, 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 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 decisive 92% of the vote, and on 29 May 1989, he 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.
On 16 September 1989, Yeltsin toured a medium-sized grocery store (Randall's) in Texas. Leon Aron, quoting a Yeltsin associate, wrote in his 2000 biography, Yeltsin, A Revolutionary Life (St. Martin's Press): "For a long time, on the plane to Miami, he sat motionless, his head in his hands. 'What have they done to our poor people?' he said after a long silence." He added, "On his return to Moscow, Yeltsin would confess the pain he had felt after the Houston excursion: the 'pain for all of us, for our country so rich, so talented and so exhausted by incessant experiments'." He wrote that Mr. Yeltsin added, "I think we have committed a crime against our people by making their standard of living so incomparably lower than that of the Americans." An aide, Lev Sukhanov was reported to have said that it was at that moment that "the last vestige of Bolshevism collapsed" inside his boss. In his autobiography, Against The Grain: An Autobiography written and published in 1990, Yeltsin hinted in a small passage that after his tour, he made plans to open his own line of grocery stores and planned to fill it with government subsidized goods in order to alleviate the country's problems.
President of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic
On 4 March 1990, Yeltsin was elected to the Congress of People's Deputies of Russia representing Sverdlovsk with 72% of the vote. On 29 May 1990, he was elected chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (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!"
1991 presidential election
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, and four other candidates. 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 had been destroyed politically. Neither union nor Russian power structures heeded his commands as support had swung over to Yeltsin. Taking advantage of the situation, Yeltsin began taking what remained of the Soviet government, ministry by ministry—including the Kremlin. On 6 November 1991, Yeltsin issued a decree banning all Communist Party activities on Russian soil. 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. In the Belavezha Accords, the three presidents announced the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the formation of a voluntary Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in its place.
According to Gorbachev, 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. 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 united. On 12 December, the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR ratified the Belavezha Accords and denounced the 1922 Union Treaty. It also ordered the Russian deputies in the Council of the Union to cease their work, leaving that body without a quorum. In effect, the largest republic of the Soviet Union had seceded.
On 17 December, in a meeting with Yeltsin, Gorbachev accepted the fait accompli and agreed to dissolve the Soviet Union. On 24 December, by mutual agreement of the other CIS states (which by this time included all of the remaining republics except Georgia), the Russian Federation took the Soviet Union's seat in the United Nations. The next day, Gorbachev resigned and the Soviet Union ceased to exist, thereby ending the world's oldest, largest and most powerful Communist state. Economic relations between the former Soviet republics were severely compromised. Millions of ethnic Russians found themselves in the newly formed foreign countries.
Initially, Yeltsin promoted the retention of national borders according to the pre-existing Soviet state borders, although this left ethnic Russians as a majority in parts of northern Kazakhstan, eastern Ukraine, and areas of Estonia and Latvia.
President of the Russian Federation
Yeltsin's first term
Just days after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Boris Yeltsin resolved to embark on a programme of radical economic reform. Unlike Gorbachev's reforms, which sought to expand democracy in the socialist system, the new regime aimed to completely dismantle socialism and fully implement capitalism, 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 favouring a rapid approach and those favoring a gradual or slower approach.
On 2 January 1992, Yeltsin, acting as his own Prime Minister, ordered the liberalisation of foreign trade, prices, and currency. At the same time, Yeltsin followed a policy of "macroeconomic stabilisation", a harsh austerity regime designed to control inflation. Under Yeltsin's stabilisation programme, 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 a 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 programs. Through the 1990s, Russia's GDP fell by 50%, vast sectors of the economy were wiped out, inequality and unemployment grew dramatically, whilst incomes fell. Hyperinflation, caused by the Central Bank of Russia's loose monetary policy, wiped out many people's 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 economic programme for the country's disastrous economic performance in the 1990s. Many politicians began to quickly distance themselves from the programme. In February 1992, Russia's vice president, Alexander Rutskoy denounced the Yeltsin programme 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 parliament
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 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 programme 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." (Izvestia, 13 August 1993).
On 21 September 1993, Yeltsin, in breach of the constitution, 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 the presidency for breaching the constitution, and Vice-President Alexander Rutskoy was sworn in as acting president.
Between 21 and 24 September, Yeltsin was confronted by popular unrest. Demonstrators protested the 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, Russian parliament building.
As the Supreme Soviet was dissolved, elections to the newly established parliament, the State Duma, were held in December 1993. 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 the right to appoint the members of the government, to dismiss the Prime Minister and, in some cases, to dissolve the Duma.
In 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, Yeltsin's then-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?"
Norwegian rocket incident
In 1995, a Black Brant sounding rocket launched from the Andøya Space Center caused a high alert in Russia, known as the Norwegian rocket incident. The Russians thought it might be a nuclear missile launched from an American submarine. The incident occurred in the post-Cold War era, where many Russians were still very suspicious of the United States and NATO. This event resulted in a full alert being passed up through the military chain of command all the way to Yeltsin, who was notified and the "nuclear briefcase" (known in Russia as Cheget) used to authorize nuclear launch was automatically activated. Yeltsin had to decide whether to launch a retaliatory nuclear strike against the United States. No warning was issued to the Russian populace of any incident; it was reported in the news a week afterward.
The Norwegian rocket incident was the first and thus far only known incident where any nuclear-weapons state had its nuclear briefcase activated and prepared for launching an attack.
Privatization and the rise of "the oligarchs"
Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Yeltsin promoted privatisation 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, privatisation 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 privatisation in Russia.
In late 1992, Yeltsin launched a programme of free vouchers as a way to give mass privatisation a jump-start. Under the programme, all Russian citizens were issued vouchers, each with a nominal value of around 10,000 roubles, for the purchase of shares of select state enterprises. Although each citizen initially received a voucher of equal face value, within months the majority 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 1996 presidential elections, the Russian president prepared for a new wave of privatisation offering stock shares in some of Russia's most valuable state enterprises in exchange for bank loans. The programme was promoted as a way of simultaneously speeding up privatisation and ensuring the government a cash infusion to cover 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 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 supporters. Along with Berezovsky, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Vladimir Potanin, Vladimir Bogdanov, Rem Viakhirev, Vagit Alekperov, Alexander Smolensky, Viktor Vekselberg, Mikhail Fridman and a few years later Roman Abramovich, were habitually mentioned in the media as Russia's oligarchs.
Korean Air Lines Flight 007
On 5 December 1991, Senator Jesse Helms, ranking member of the Minority on the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, wrote to 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, whilst being interviewed onboard his presidential jet en route to the United States, "Our archives have shown that it is true — some of them were transferred to the territory of the USSR and were kept in labour 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 to Yeltsin regarding American servicemen, he again wrote to Yeltsin, this time concerning Korean Air Lines Flight 007 (KAL 007) requesting information concerning possible survivors, including Georgia Congressman 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.
- — Sen. Jesse Helms, writing to Yeltsin, 10 December 1991.
In March 1992, Yeltsin would hand over KAL 007's black box without its tapes to South Korean President Roh Tae-woo at the end of the plenary session of the South Korean National Assembly with this statement, "We apologise for the tragedy and are trying to settle some unsolved issues." Yeltsin released the tapes of the KAL 007's "Black Box" (its Digital Flight Data Recorder and Cockpit Voice Recorder) to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) on 8 January 1993. For years the Soviet authorities had denied possessing these tapes. The openness of Yeltsin about POW/MIA and KAL 007 matters may also have signalled 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 United States and admitted that the Sverdlovsk anthrax leak of 2 April 1979 (which Yeltsin had originally been involved in concealing) had been caused as the 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 unknown.
1996 presidential election
In February 1996, Yeltsin announced that he would seek a second term in the 1996 Russian presidential election in the summer. 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 began in early 1996, Yeltsin's popularity was close to being non-existent. Meanwhile, the opposition Communist Party had already gained ground in parliamentary voting on 17 December 1995, and its candidate, Gennady Zyuganov, had a strong grassroots organisation, 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 domestic order under state socialism.
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 the presidential elections and effectively rule as a 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 re-election campaign.
In mid-1996, Chubais and Yeltsin recruited a team of a handful of financial and media oligarchs to bankroll the Yeltsin campaign and guarantee favourable media coverage to 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. Led by the efforts of Mikhail Lesin, 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 was elected president.
Yeltsin campaigned energetically, dispelling concerns about his health, and maintained a high media profile. To boost his popularity, Yeltsin promised to abandon some of his more unpopular economic reforms, boost welfare spending, end the war in Chechnya, and pay wage and pension arrears. Yeltsin had benefited from the approval of a US$10.2 billion International Monetary Fund loan to Russia, which helped to keep his government afloat.
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 finished in third place 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 40.7%, with the rest (5.9%) voting "against all".
Yeltsin's second term
Yeltsin underwent emergency quintuple heart bypass surgery in November 1996, and remained in the hospital for months. During his presidency, Russia received US$40,000,000,000 in funds from the International Monetary Fund and other international lending organisations. However, his opponents allege that most of these funds were stolen by people from Yeltsin's circle and placed into 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 rouble to collapse in the 1998 Russian 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 towards military action. Otherwise there will be a European war for sure and possibly a world war."
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 U.S. President Bill 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, whilst 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 Putin to downplay Yeltsin's comments and present reassurances about U.S. and Russian relations.
Attempted 1999 impeachment
On 15 May 1999, Yeltsin survived another attempt of impeachment, this time by the democratic and communist 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 required to initiate the process of impeachment of the president.
With Pavel Borodin as the Kremlin property manager, Swiss construction firm Mabetex was awarded many important Russian government contracts. They were awarded the contracts to reconstruct, renovate and refurbish the former Russian Federation Parliament, the Russian Opera House, State Duma and the Moscow Kremlin.
In 1998, Prosecutor General of Russia Yuri Skuratov opened a bribery investigation against Mabetex, accusing CEO Mr. Pacolli of bribing President Boris Yeltsin and his family members. Swiss authorities issued an international arrest warrant for Pavel Borodin, the official who managed the Kremlin's property empire. Admitting publicly that bribery was usual business practice in Russia, Mr. Pacolli confirmed in early-December 1999 that he had guaranteed five credit cards for Mr. Yeltsin's wife, Naina, and two daughters, Tatyana and Yelena. President Yeltsin resigned a few weeks later on 31 December 1999, appointing Vladimir Putin as his successor. President Putin's first decree as president was lifelong immunity from prosecution for Yeltsin.
On 31 December 1999, Yeltsin issued a televised resignation speech. In it, he praised the advances in cultural, political, and economic freedom that his administration had overseen although apologised to Russia's people for "not making many of your and my dreams come true. What seemed simple to do proved to be excruciatingly difficult."
Illness and suspected alcoholism
Yeltsin suffered from heart disease during his first term as President of the Russian Federation, probably continuing for the rest of his life. He is known to have suffered heart problems in March 1990, just after being elected as a member of parliament. It was common knowledge that in early 1996 he was recuperating from a series of heart attacks and, soon after, he spent months in hospital recovering from a quintuple bypass operation (see above). His death in 2007 was recorded as due to congestive heart failure.
According to numerous reports, Yeltsin was alcohol dependent. 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. A report in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, reprinted by Pravda, reported that Yeltsin often appeared drunk in public. His 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 an incident during a flight stop-over at Shannon Airport, Ireland, in September 1994 when the waiting Irish 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 had suffered a heart attack on the flight from the United States to Moscow and was therefore not in a 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 doctors, which were incompatible even with a small amount of alcohol. This was discussed by journalist Yelena Tregubova from the "Kremlin 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. Tregubova barely escaped an assassination attempt after publishing this material.
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, Canada, where the pair had been invited to present the trophy. He made a hasty withdrawal from the funeral of King Hussein of Jordan in February 1999.
After Yeltsin's death, a Dutch neurosurgeon, Michiel Staal, said that his team had been 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 interviews by author and historian Taylor Branch 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 taxi cab in order to find pizza.
Yeltsin's personal and health problems received a great deal of attention in the global press. As the years went on, he was often viewed as an increasingly drunk and unstable leader, rather than the inspiring figure he was once seen as. The possibility that he might die in office was often discussed. 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. In October 1999 Yeltsin was hospitalized with flu and a fever, and in the following month he was hospitalized with pneumonia, just days after receiving treatment for bronchitis.
Life after resignation
Yeltsin maintained a low profile after his resignation, making almost no public statements or appearances. He criticized his successor in December 2000 for supporting the reintroduction of the Soviet-era national anthem. In January 2001 he was hospitalized for six weeks with pneumonia resulting from a viral infection. 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 on holiday in the Italian island of Sardinia. On 1 February 2006, Yeltsin celebrated his 75th birthday.
Death and funeral
Boris Yeltsin died of congestive heart failure on 23 April 2007, aged 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 repose in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow.
Yeltsin was the first Russian head of state in 113 years to be buried in a church ceremony, after Emperor Alexander III. He was 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.
President Putin declared the day of his funeral a national day of mourning, with the nation's flags flown at half mast and all entertainment programs suspended for the day. Putin said, upon 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 him 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 express my profoundest condolences to the family of the deceased, who had major deeds for the good of the country as well as serious mistakes behind him. It was a tragic destiny."
In the late 1980s, Yeltsin told the Athens daily newspaper Kathimerini that "I regard myself as a social democrat", adding that "Those who still believe in communism are moving in the sphere of fantasy".
Linking Yeltsin with "liberal Russian nationalism", Alfred B. Evans described Yeltsin as having "exerted a crucial influence on the development of Russian nationalism." Yeltsin helped to channel the aspirations of Russian nationalism in ways that did not lead to clashes with the nationalisms of other national groups within the Soviet Union. As head of the RSFSR, he stressed the specific interests of the Russian republic within the broader Soviet Union. Evans compared Yeltsin's turn away from the "empire-building" of the Soviet Union to the ideas of the writer and dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who in the 1980s had called for Russia to extricate itself from the Soviet Union. However, Evans thought that by 1990, Yeltsin still appeared to believe that the Ukrainians and Belarusians, as fellow East Slavic nationalities, would want to remain politically united with Russia in federal form. By 1991, it was obvious that this would not occur as the Ukrainian population favoured full independence. Over the course of his presidency, he made increasing concessions to right-wing ethnic Russian nationalism by expressing growing concern over the fate of ethnic Russians in neighbouring countries.
Colton described Yeltsin as a man who "teemed with inner complexities", who exhibited both a "mathematical cast of mind" and a "taste for adventure". Colton noted that Yeltsin had "the intuition for grasping a situation holistically". Colton thought Yeltsin could be bullheaded, and restless. Evans noted that in Yeltsin's autobiography, the leader appeared to view himself as much as a Soviet person as a Russian. As a child, he sustained both a broken nose and a maimed hand, physical attributes he remained self-conscious about; in public he would often conceal his left hand under the table or behind his tie. Although his mother was a devout Orthodox Christian, Yeltsin did not grow up as a practitioner, only becoming so in the 1980s and 1990s.
At university, he developed the habit of sleeping for only four hours at night. At university, he was known for enjoying practical jokes, and from youth could play the iozhki spoons. Until poor health stopped him in the 1990s, Yeltsin enjoyed swimming in icy water, and throughout his life started each day with a cold shower. He also loved using the banya steambath.
Yeltsin's favourite writer was Anton Chekhov.
Doder and Branson noted that Yeltsin was "a hero for young Russians, a cult figure to those who were not necessarily anticommunists but who were filled with bitterness and apathy" from the Brezhnev years. They noted he was "ebullient, almost outrageously open", and also "charismatic". They added that Yeltsin presented himself as "a true working-class hero" when challenging the Soviet administration.
Reception and legacy
Colton suggested that "Yeltsin leaves nobody indifferent. He needs to be understood if we are to understand the age we inhabit". Aron characterised him as "Russia's first modern leader". Colton understood him as "a hero in history", albeit one who was "enigmatic and flawed". He expressed the view that Yeltsin was part of "the global trend away from authoritarianism and statism" that occurred in the 1990s, comparing him to Nelson Mandela, Lech Wałęsa, Václav Havel, and Gorbachev.
In 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.
Honours and awards
Russian and Soviet
- Order of Merit for the Fatherland, 1st class (12 June 2001) – a particularly outstanding contribution to the establishment and development of the Russian state
- Order of Lenin (January 1981) – for services to the Communist Party and Soviet state and his fiftieth birthday
- Order of the Red Banner of Labour, twice;
- August 1971 – for services in carrying out a five-year plan
- January 1974 – for achievements in the construction of the first stage of cold rolling shop at the Verkh-Isetsky Metallurgical Plant in Sverdlovsk
- Order of the Badge of Honour (1966) – for achievements in implementing the seven-year plan targets for construction
- Medal "In Commemoration of the 1000th Anniversary of Kazan" (2006)
- Medal "For Valiant Labour. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Lenin" (November 1969)
- Jubilee Medal "Thirty Years of Victory in the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945" (April 1975)
- Jubilee Medal "60 Years of the Armed Forces of the USSR" (January 1978)
- Gold Medal, Exhibition of Economic Achievements (October 1981)
- Medal – "In memory of the army as a volunteer" (March 2012, posthumous) – for a high contribution to the remembrance of the Great Patriotic War, with respect for the history of the Russian state, and for his contribution to the preservation of names of victims in conflicts in defence of the homeland.
- Order of Francisc Skorina (Belarus, 31 December 1999) – for his great personal contribution to the development and strengthening of Belarusian-Russian cooperation
- Order of the Golden Eagle (Kazakhstan, 1997)
- Order of Prince Yaroslav the Wise, 1st class (Ukraine, 22 January 2000) – for his significant personal contribution to the development of Ukrainian-Russian cooperation
- Knight Grand Cross with collar of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic (Italy, 1991)
- Order of the Three Stars, 1st class (Latvia, 2006)
- Order "Bethlehem 2000" (Palestinian Authority, 2000)
- Knight Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour (France)
- Order of Good Hope, 1st class (South Africa, 1999)
- Medal of 13 January (Lithuania, 9 January 1992)
- Grand Cross of the Order of the Cross of Vytis (Lithuania, 10 June 2011, posthumous)
- Order "For Personal Courage" (Mongolia, 18 October 2001)
- Gorchakov Commemorative Medal (Russian Foreign Ministry, 1998)
- Golden Olympic Order (International Olympic Committee, 1993)
- Order of Saint Blessed Grand Prince Dmitry Donskoy, 1st class (Russian Orthodox Church, 2006)
- Chevalier of the Order of the Chain of the Holy Sepulchre (Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, 2000)
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