Boris Yeltsin

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Boris Yeltsin
Boris Yeltsin
Term of office July 10, 1991 – December 31, 1999
Preceded by None
Succeeded by Vladimir Putin
Date of birth February 1, 1931
Place of birth Butka, Sverdlovsk,
Soviet Union
Spouse None
Political party None

Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin (Russian: Борис Николаевич Ельцин) (born February 1, 1931) was President of Russia from 1991 to 1999.


Early Life

Boris Yeltsin was born to a peasant family in Butka village, Talitsa district, Sverdlovsk region. His father, Nikolai Yeltsin, was convicted of anti-Soviet agitation in 1934 and served in a gulag for three years. After his release he remained unemployed for a while and then worked in construction. His mother, Klavdiya Vasilyevna Yeltsina, worked as a seamstress.

When he was 12 or 13 years old, in the middle of World War II, Yeltsin blew off the thumb and forefinger of his left hand while disassembling an RGD-33 grenade that he and two of his friends had stolen from a weapons warehouse.

Yeltsin studied at Pushkin High School in Berezniki, Perm region and the Ural Polytechnic Institute in Sverdlovsk, majoring in construction, and graduated in 1955.

CPSU Member

Member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) from 1961 to July 1990, he began working in the Communist administration in 1969. In 1977 as party boss in Sverdlovsk, he ordered the destruction of the Ipatiev House where the last Tsar had been murdered. Appointed to the Politburo by Mikhail Gorbachev, Yeltsin was also "Mayor" of Moscow (First Secretary of the CPSU Moscow City Committee) from December 24, 1985 to 1987, when he was sacked from both positions after criticizing Gorbachev and the pace of reform in the USSR.

The brusque manner of his criticisms of Gorbachev during meetings of the politburo violated a convention of procedure which mandated that strong criticisms be circulated beforehand to avoid personal clashes during actual meetings. Yeltsin was not exiled or imprisoned as once would have been the consequence, but demoted to the position of First Deputy Commissioner for the State Committee for Construction. Yeltsin was perturbed and humiliated but plotted his revenge. His opening came with Gorbachev's establishment of the Congress of People's Deputies.

President of the RSFSR

Yeltsin (far left) stands on a tank to defy the August coup in 1991.
Yeltsin (far left) stands on a tank to defy the August coup in 1991.

In March 1989, Yeltsin was elected to the Congress of People's Deputies and gained a seat on the Supreme Soviet. In May 1990, he was appointed speaker of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR). On June 12, 1990, Congress of People's Deputies of the RSFSR adopted a declaration of sovereignty and, in July, Yeltsin quit the CPSU.

On June 12, 1991, Yeltsin won 57 percent of the popular vote in democratic presidential elections for the Russian republic, defeating Gorbachev's preferred candidate, Nikolai Ryzhkov. Yeltsin took office on July 10.

On August 18, 1991, a coup against Gorbachev was launched by hardline communists headed by Vladimir Kryuchkov. Gorbachev was held in the Crimea while Yeltsin raced to the White House of Russia in Moscow to defy the coup. The White House was surrounded by the military but the troops defected in the face of mass popular demonstrations, Yeltsin making a memorable speech from the turret of a tank. By August 21 most of the coup leaders had fled Moscow and Gorbachev was "rescued" from the Crimea and then returned to Moscow. Yeltsin was subsequently hailed by his supporters around the world for rallying mass opposition to the coup.

Although restored to his position, Gorbachev's powers were now fatally compromised. Neither union nor Russian power structures heeded his commands as support had swung over to Yeltsin. Through the fall of 1991, the Russian government took over the union government, ministry by ministry. In November 1991, Yeltsin issued a decree banning the Communist Party throughout the RSFSR.

In early December 1991, Ukraine voted for independence from the Soviet Union. A week later, on December 8, Boris Yeltsin met with Ukrainian president Leonid Kravchuk and the leader of Belarus, Stanislau Shushkevich, in Belovezhskaya Pushcha residence, where the three presidents announced the dissolution of the USSR and that they would establish a voluntary Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in its place.

On December 24, the Russian Federation took the Soviet Union's seat in the United Nations. The next day, President Gorbachev resigned and the USSR ceased to exist (see Collapse of the Soviet Union), thereby ending the world's largest and most influential communist regime.

Post-Soviet Presidency

Boris Yeltsin dancing and singing in presidential campaign.
Boris Yeltsin dancing and singing in presidential campaign.
Bill Clinton plays the saxophone presented to him by Yeltsin at a private dinner in Russia, January 13, 1994
Bill Clinton plays the saxophone presented to him by Yeltsin at a private dinner in Russia, January 13, 1994

Following the dissolution of the USSR, the acceleration of economic restructuring became one of Yeltsin's main priorities with his government overseeing a massive privatization of state-run enterprises. However, the Yeltsin government's incompetence and destructive activities of pro-inflation forces caused the Russian economy to further deteriorate.

Yeltsin's reform program took effect on January 2, 1992 (see Russian economic reform in the 1990s for background information). Soon afterward prices skyrocketed, government spending was slashed, and heavy new taxes went into effect. A deep credit crunch shut down many industries and brought about a protracted depression. Certain politicians began quickly to distance themselves from the program; and increasingly the ensuing political confrontation between Yeltsin on the one side, and the opposition to radical economic reform on the other, became centered in the two branches of government.

Throughout 1992, opposition to Yeltsin's reform policies grew stronger and more intractable among bureaucrats concerned about the condition of Russian industry and among regional leaders who wanted more independence from Moscow. Russia's vice president, Aleksandr Rutskoy, denounced the Yeltsin program as "economic genocide." Leaders of oil-rich republics such as Tatarstan and Bashkiria called for full independence from Russia.

Also throughout 1992, Yeltsin wrestled with the Supreme Soviet and the Russian Congress of People's Deputies for control over government and government policy. In 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.

Congress of People's Deputies attempted to impeach Yeltsin on March 26, 1993. Yeltsin's opponents gathered more than 600 votes for impeachment, but fell 72 votes short.

On September 21, 1993, Yeltsin disbanded the Supreme Soviet and Congress of People's Deputies by decree, which was illegal under the constitution. On September 21 there was a military showdown, the Russian constitutional crisis of 1993. With military help, Yeltsin held control. The conflict that resulted in a number of civilian casualties was resolved in Yeltsin's favor and elections were held on December 12, 1993.

In December 1994, Yeltsin ordered the military invasion of Chechnya in an attempt to restore Moscow's control over the separatist republic. Yeltsin later withdrew federal forces from Chechnya under a 1996 peace agreement brokered by Aleksandr Lebed, then Yeltsin's security chief. The deal allowed Chechnya greater autonomy but not full independence (see First Chechen War).

In July 1996, Yeltsin was re-elected as President with financial support from influential business oligarchs. Despite only gaining 35 percent of the first round vote, he successfully defeated his communist rival Gennady Zyuganov in the runoff election. Later that year, Yeltsin underwent heart bypass surgery and remained in hospital for months.

In 1998, a political and economic crisis emerged when Yeltsin's government defaulted on its debts, causing financial markets to panic and the country's currency, the ruble, to collapse.

On August 9, 1999 Yeltsin fired his Prime Minister, Sergei Stepashin, and for the fourth time, fired his entire cabinet.

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.

Yeltsin continued as President of Russia until December 31, 1999, but the events of 1991 proved to be something of a high-water mark for him historically and personally. He resigned on December 31, 1999, and in accordance with Russian Constitution, prime minister Vladimir Putin became an Acting President until new elections were held on March 26, 2000.

Life after resignation

Yeltsin on vacation with former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl (middle) in 2005.
Yeltsin on vacation with former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl (middle) in 2005.

Yeltsin's personal and health problems received a lot of attention in the global press. As the years went on, he was seen as an increasingly unstable leader, and not the inspiring figure he once was. The possibility that he might die in office was often discussed.

Yeltsin has remained very low-key since his resignation, making almost no public statements or appearances. However, on September 13, 2004, following the Beslan school hostage crisis, and nearly-concurrent terrorist attacks in Moscow, Putin launched an initiative to replace the election of regional governors with a system whereby they would be directly appointed by the President and approved by regional legislatures. Yeltsin, together with Mikhail Gorbachev, publicly criticized Putin's plan as a step away from democracy in Russia and a return to the centrally run political apparatus of the Soviet era.

In September 2005, Yeltsin underwent a hip operation in Moscow after breaking his femur in a fall while vacationing on the Italian island of Sardinia.

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Preceded by:
Oleg Lobov
Prime Minister of Russia
Succeeded by:
Yegor Gaidar
Preceded by:
President of Russia
Succeeded by:
Vladimir Putin
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