Boris Yeltsin

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Boris Yeltsin
Boris Yeltsin
Order: 1st President of Russia
Term of Office: July 10, 1991December 31, 1999
Predecessor: none
Successor: Vladimir Putin
Date of Birth: February 1, 1931
Political Party:

Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin (bah-REES YELL-tsin) (b. February 1, 1931, Sverdlovsk [now Yekaterinburg], Russia, USSR), became the first President of Russia in 1991, and the first democratically elected leader in the country's history.

Early Life

Boris Yeltsin was born to a peasant family in Butka village, Talitsky district, Sverdlovsk region on February 1, 1931. His father, Nikolai Yeltsin, was convicted of Anti-Soviet agitation in 1934 and served in Stalin's labor camps in 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 a grenade (type: RGD-33) 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 graduating in 1955.

File:Young Boris and his parents, 1931.jpg
Young Boris and his parents in 1931

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.

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 Constuction. Yeltsin was frightened and humiliated but plotted his revenge. His opening came with Gorbachev's establishment of the Congress of People's Deputies.

President of the RSFSR

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 RSFSR, in June the RSFSR declared independence and in July Yeltsin left the CPSU. In the democratic presidential elections for Russia on June 12, 1991 Yeltsin won 57 per cent of the popular vote and he took office on July 10.

On August 18 1991 a coup against Gorbachev was started by hardline communists headed by 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 troops but in the face of mass popular demonstrations the troops defected, 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 returned to Moscow. Yeltsin was hailed around the world as a hero for saving the Soviet Union from the resumption of tyranny and the world from the renewal of the Cold War.

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

However, by the time Gorbachev was restored to power, the Soviet power structure was in the process of collapse. In early December 1991, Ukraine voted for independence from the Soviet Union. A week later the Presidents of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus created the Commonwealth of Independent States. On December 24, the Russian Federation took the USSR's seat in the United Nations. The next day, President Gorbachev resigned and the USSR ceased to exist (see Collapse of the Soviet Union).

Post-Soviet Presidency

Following the disintergration of the USSR, continued 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. Congress of People's Deputies of Russia attempted to impeach President 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. Elections were set for December 12, 1993, but on September 21 there was a military showdown, the Russian constitutional crisis of 1993. With military help, Yeltsin held control until the elections.

In December 1994, Yeltsin ordered the military invasion of Chechnya after Chechen separatists attempted to breakaway from the Russian Federation. 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 autonomy but not full independence. Up to 100,000 people were estimated to have been killed during the 20-month conflict.

In July 1996, Yeltsin was re-elected as President, defeating his communist rival Gennady Zyuganov. Later that year, Yeltsin underwent quadruple 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 a possible world war 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, naming Vladimir Putin as Acting President until new elections were held on March 26 2000.

Life after resignation

An alcoholic, 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.

On September 13th, 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 criticized Putin's actions as a step away from democracy in Russia and a return to the centrally run political apparatus of the Soviet era.

Preceded by:
President of Russia Succeeded by:
Vladimir Putin
Preceded by:
Ivan Silayev
Prime Minister of Russia (acting) Succeeded by:
Yegor Gaidar