Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin (Russian: Бори́с Никола́евич Е́льцин, IPA: [bɐˈrʲis nʲɪkɐˈlaɪvʲɪtɕ ˈjelʲtsɨn] (
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 (RSFSR). Upon the resignation of Mikhail Gorbachev and the dissolution of the Soviet Union on 25 December 1991, the RSFSR became the sovereign state of the Russian Federation, and Yeltsin remained in office as president. He was reelected in the 1996 election, in which critics widely claimed pervasive corruption; in the second round he defeated Gennady Zyuganov from the revived Communist Party by a margin of 13.7%. However, Yeltsin never recovered his early popularity after a series of economic and political crises in Russia in the 1990s.
Yeltsin transformed Russia's socialist economy into a capitalist market economy, implementing economic shock therapy, market exchange rate of the ruble, nationwide privatization and lifting of price controls. Yeltsin proposed a new Russian constitution which was popularly approved at the 1993 constitutional referendum. However, due to the sudden total economic shift, a majority of the national property and wealth fell into the hands of a small number of oligarchs. Rather than creating new enterprises, Yeltsin's policies led to international monopolies hijacking the former Soviet markets, arbitraging the huge difference between old domestic prices for Russian commodities and the prices prevailing on the world market. In the foreign policy Yeltsin offered cooperative and conciliatory relations, particularly with the Group of Seven, CIS and OSCE, as well as adherence to arms control agreements, such as START II.
Much of the Yeltsin era was marked by widespread corruption, and as a result of persistent low oil and commodity prices during the 1990s, Russia suffered inflation and economic collapse. Within a few years of his presidency, many of Yeltsin's initial supporters had started to criticize his leadership, and Vice President Alexander Rutskoy even denounced the reforms as "economic genocide". Ongoing confrontations with the Supreme Soviet climaxed in the 1993 Russian constitutional crisis in which Yeltsin ordered the dissolution of the Supreme Soviet parliament, which as a result attempted to remove him from office. In October 1993, troops loyal to Yeltsin stopped an armed uprising outside of the parliament building, leading to a number of deaths. On 31 December 1999, under enormous internal pressure, Yeltsin announced 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.
Early life and education
Boris Yeltsin was born in the village of Butka, Talitsky District, Sverdlovsk, USSR, 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, more than 1,100 kilometres from Butka, where Boris' father, Nikolai, found work on a building site. Growing up in rural Sverdlovsk, he studied at the Ural State Technical University (now Urals Polytechnic Institute), and began his career in the construction industry. 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 previous year 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 studied at Pushkin High School in Berezniki. He was fond of sports (in particular skiing, gymnastics, volleyball, track & field, boxing and wrestling) despite losing the thumb and index finger of his left hand when he and some friends furtively entered a Red Army supply depot, stole several grenades, and tried to disassemble them.
In 1949,he was admitted to the Ural Polytechnic Institute in Sverdlovsk, majoring in construction, and he graduated in 1955. The subject of his degree paper was "Construction of a Mine Shaft". From 1955-57 he worked as a foreman with the building trust Uraltyazhtrubstroy. From 1957-63, 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 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 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 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 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 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 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. Aside from the fact that no one had ever before quit the Politburo, 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. 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. Speaking at the CPSU conference in 1988, Yegor Ligachev stated: "Boris, you are wrong". An article in Pravda described Yeltsin as drunk at a lecture during his September 1989 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 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.
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.
On his autobiography titled Against The Grain: An Autobiography written and published in 1990, however, Yeltsin hinted in a small passage that after his tour, he made plans on opening his own line of grocery stores and planned to fill it with government subsidized goods in order to alleviate the countries 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, the Russian Federation, by mutual agreement of the other CIS states (which by this time included all of the remaining republics except Georgia) 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.
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 entitlement programmes. 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
Also 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." (Izvestiya, 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 presidency, by virtue of him having 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. 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, 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 a 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?"
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 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 supporters. 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.
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 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 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 at 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 guaranteed 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 40.3%, 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 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 which was 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 Mabetex 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 Mr. Yeltsin.
On 31 December 1999, in an announcement aired at 12:00 pm MSK on Russian television and taped in the morning of the same day, Yeltsin said he had resigned and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin 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 ask for your forgiveness, that many of our dreams didn't come true. That what seemed to us to be simple turned out painfully difficult. I ask forgiveness for the fact that I didn't justify some of the hopes of those people who believed that with one stroke, one burst, one sign we could jump from the grey, stagnant, totalitarian past to a bright, rich, civilized future. I myself believed this. One burst was not enough... but I want you to know – I've never said this, today it's important for me to tell you: the pain of every one of you, I felt in myself, in my heart... in saying farewell, I want to say to every one of you: be happy. You deserve happiness. You deserve happiness, and peace.
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, Ontario, 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 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 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.
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 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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