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Boris Yeltsin

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Boris Yeltsin
Борис Ельцин
Boris Yeltsin

In office
July 10, 1991 – December 31, 1999
Preceded by None (Sworn in as president after Soviet Union Leader Mikhail Gorbachev)
Succeeded by Vladimir Putin

Born February 1, 1931
Butka, Sverdlovsk,
Soviet Union
Spouse Naina Yeltsina

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

Contents

[edit] Early life

Boris Yeltsin was born in the village of Butka, in the Talitsa district of Sverdlovsk Oblast in Russia. His father, Nikolai Yeltsin, was convicted of anti-Soviet agitation in 1934 and sentenced to hard labor in a gulag for three years. After his release he remained unemployed for some time and then worked in construction. His mother, Klavdiya Vasilyevna Yeltsina, worked as a seamstress.

Yeltsin studied at Pushkin High School in Berezniki in Perm Krai. He studied well, and throughout school was the class leader (староста, starosta). However, he lacked discipline and was often unruly. He participated in street fights and he was constantly in conflict with teachers at school or with his father. In these conflicts he often emerged victorious.[citation needed] Thus, when his 7-year education certificate was revoked, he demanded that a committee be formed to investigate the case and eventually had the certificate restored and the teacher responsible for the revocation fired.[citation needed] He passed the 10-year education exams without taking the full course.[citation needed]

He was fond of sports (in particular skiing, gymnastics, volleyball, track and field, boxing and wrestling) despite losing two fingers when he and some friends snuck into a Red Army supply depot, stole several grenades, and tried to dissect them.

Yeltsin received his higher education at the Ural Polytechnic Institute in Sverdlovsk, majoring in construction, and graduated in 1955. The theme of his degree paper was "Television Tower".

From 1955 to 1957 he worked as a foreman with the building trust Uraltyazhtrubstroi. From 1957 to 1963 he worked in Sverdlovsk and was promoted from construction site superintendent to chief of the Construction Directorate with the Yuzhgorstroi Trust. In 1963 he became chief engineer, and in 1965 head of the Sverdlovsk House-Building Combine. He joined the ranks of CPSU nomenclatura 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.

[edit] CPSU member

Yeltsin was a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) from 1961 to July 1990, and began working in the Communist administration in 1968. He later commented on his communist views:

"I sincerely believed in the ideals of justice propagated by the party, and just as sincerely joined the party, made a thorough study of the charter, the program and the classics, re-reading the works of Lenin, Marx and Engels."

In 1977 as party boss in Sverdlovsk, he ordered the destruction of the Ipatiev House where the last Russian tsar had been killed by Bolshevik troops. The Ipatiev House was demolished in one night, early in the morning of September 18, 1977. Also during Yeltsin's stay in Sverdlovsk, a CPSU palace was built which was named "White Tooth" by the residents. During the 30 years of his activities as a communist, Yeltsin developed connections with key people in the Soviet power structure.

He was appointed to the Politburo, and was also "Mayor" of Moscow (First Secretary of the CPSU Moscow City Committee) from December 24, 1985 to 1987. He was promoted to these high-rank positions by Mikhail Gorbachev and Yegor Ligachev who presumed that Yeltsin would be "their man". Yeltsin was also given a country house (dacha) previously occupied by Gorbachev. During this period Yeltsin portrayed himself as a reformer and populist (for example, he took a trolleybus to work), firing and reshuffling his staff several times. His initiatives became popular among Moscow residents.

In 1987, after a confrontation with hardliner Yegor Ligachev and eventually with Mikhail Gorbachev about Gorbachev's wife, Raisa, meddling in affairs of the state, Yeltsin was sacked from his high-ranking party positions. On October 21, 1987 at the plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the CPSU, Yeltsin, without prior approval from Gorbachev, lashed out at the Politburo. He expressed his discontent with both the slow pace of reform in society and the servility shown to the General Secretary, then asked 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 City Party Committee. In his reply, Gorbachev accused Yeltsin of "political immaturity" and "absolute irresponsibility", and raised the question of relieving Yeltsin of his post of first secretary at the plenary meeting of the Moscow City Party Committee. Nobody backed Yeltsin. Criticism of Yeltsin continued on November 11, 1987 at the meeting of the Moscow City Party Committee. He admitted that his speech had been a mistake. Yeltsin was fired from the post of first secretary of the Moscow City Committee. He 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. After being fired, Yeltsin was hospitalized and reportedly (later confirmed by Nikolai Ryzhkov) attempted suicide. He was perturbed and humiliated but began plotting his revenge[1]. His opening came with Gorbachev's establishment of the Congress of People's Deputies. [2] 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. The organizers of the smear campaign apparently thought that it would be an easy job to get rid of Yeltsin using examples of his awkward behavior. An article published in Pravda described him as being drunk at a lecture during his visit to the United States, and a TV account of his speech seemed to confirm this information. However, the popular dissatisfaction with the regime was very strong, and any attempt to smear Yeltsin only added to his popularity. Another accident that befell Yeltsin during this time was his falling from a bridge. Commenting on this event, Yeltsin hinted that he was helped to fall from the bridge by the enemies of perestroika. However, his opponents suggested that he was simply drunk.

[edit] President of the RSFSR

Yeltsin (far left) stands on a tank to defy the August coup in 1991.
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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 as the delegate from Moscow district and gained a seat on the Supreme Soviet. In May 1990, he was elected chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR). 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 June 12, 1990, the Congress of People's Deputies of the RSFSR adopted a declaration of sovereignty and Yeltsin quit the CPSU in July 1990.

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

On August 18, 1991, a coup against Gorbachev was launched by hardline communists headed by Vladimir Kryuchkov. 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. The White House was surrounded by the military but the troops defected in the face of mass popular demonstrations. Yeltsin responded to the coup by 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 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, Yeltsin met with Ukrainian president Leonid Kravchuk and the leader of Belarus, Stanislau Shushkevich, in Belovezhskaya Pushcha, where the three presidents announced the dissolution of the Soviet Union and that they would establish a voluntary Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in its place. According to Mikhail Gorbachev, the president of the Soviet Union at that time, Yeltsin kept the plans of the Belovezhskaya meeting in strict secrecy and the main goal of the dissolution of the Soviet Union was to get rid of Gorbachev, who by that time had started to recover his position after the events of August. Mikhail Gorbachev has also accused Yeltsin of violating the people's will expressed in the referendum in which the majority voted to keep the Soviet Union.

On December 24, the Russian Federation took the Soviet Union's seat in the United Nations. The next day, President Gorbachev resigned and the Soviet Union ceased to exist (see Collapse of the Soviet Union), thereby ending the world's largest and most influential communist regime. Economic relations between the former Soviet republics were severely compromised. Millions of native Russians found themselves in the newly formed "foreign" countries.

[edit] Post-Soviet presidency

President George H. W. Bush and Boris Yeltsin sign the Start II Treaty at a ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow on January 3, 1993.
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President George H. W. Bush and Boris Yeltsin sign the Start II Treaty at a ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow on January 3, 1993.
Bill Clinton plays the saxophone presented to him by Yeltsin at a private dinner in Russia, January 13, 1994
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Bill Clinton plays the saxophone presented to him by Yeltsin at a private dinner in Russia, January 13, 1994
Boris Yeltsin visits Katyn near Smolensk, Russia, where the Russians massacred thousands of Polish officers, and accepts the Russian responsibility for the crime
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Boris Yeltsin visits Katyn near Smolensk, Russia, where the Russians massacred thousands of Polish officers, and accepts the Russian responsibility for the crime

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, 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 the destructive activities of pro-inflation forces caused the Russian economy to further deteriorate. The country quickly entered into a state of chaos during which former state property was redistributed. Former Communist party and Komsomol apparatchiks, the majority of whom remained in power in the new government structures, were in the best position to acquire unprecedented amounts of wealth. At the same time, entrepreneurs throughout the country were able to start their own businesses.

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. The people in Yeltsin's circle who controlled credit policy during this time gained huge profits by credit manipulations. At the same time, the bank savings of ordinary people were quickly depleted by inflation.

Certain politicians quickly began to distance themselves from Yeltsin's program; and increasingly the ensuing political confrontation between Yeltsin on the one side, and the political opposition to radical economic reform on the other, became centered in the two branches of government. Both camps accused each other of corruption. Aleksandr Rutskoy, who headed an anti-corruption committee, claimed to collect "eleven suitcases" of documents that demonstrated the criminal activity of Yeltsin's close associates: former acting premier (later vice-premier) Yegor Gaidar, state secretary Gennady Burbulis, minister of press and information Mikhail Poltoranin and former vice-premiers Vladimir Shumeiko and Alexander Shokhin, chairman of the State Property Committee Anatoly Chubais and foreign minister Andrey Kozyrev. Of the 51 cases that Rutskoy reported to State Prosecution, 45 were later found correct. In response, Yeltsin fired Aleksandr Rutskoy from the position of the chairman of the anti-corruption committee and accused Rutskoy himself of corruption and having a Swiss bank account. These allegations were later shown to be false.

Throughout 1992, opposition to Yeltsin's reform policies grew stronger and more intractable among those concerned about the condition of Russian industry, among regional leaders who wanted more independence from Moscow and among his rivals fighting for their pieces of state property. 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, 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.

The conflict exacerbated on March 20, 1993 when Yeltsin, in a televised address to the nation, announced that he was going to assume certain "special powers" in order to implement his program of reforms. In response, the hastily-called 9th Congress of People's Deputies attempted to remove Yeltsin from presidency through impeachment on March 26, 1993. Yeltsin's opponents gathered more than 600 votes for impeachment, but fell 72 votes short of the required two-thirds majority. Further, on April 25, 1993 Yeltsin had won the popular referendum of confidence in him and his reform program over the parliament.

On September 21, 1993, Yeltsin disbanded the Supreme Soviet and Congress of People's Deputies by decree, which contradicted the Russian 1978 Constitution, updated in 1991 (1992 edition, in Russian), which stated:

Article 121-6. The powers of the President of Russian Federation cannot be used to change national and state organization of Russian Federation, to dissolve or impede the activity of any elected organs of state power; otherwise, the President loses his powers immediately.

Yeltsin's decree stipulated the transitional period until the election of the new parliament, the State Duma and the referendum on the new constitution. This decree provoked the Russian constitutional crisis of 1993 and ended in a military showdown in Moscow, where 187 people were killed. On the night after Yeltsin's televised address, the Supreme Soviet declared Yeltsin removed from presidency, by virtue of his breaching the constitution, and Vice-President Rutskoy was sworn in as the acting president. Constitution Court confirmed that these actions were legal. However, with the support of the army and militia forces, Yeltsin held control, managing to isolate the parliament both physically and in the media. After the two-week long standoff turned into bloody street fighting, the parliament building was bombarded and stormed, and the parliament leaders were arrested.

New elections of the State Duma were held on December 12, 1993, in which the right-wing Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and communists showed very good results, unlike the party "Russia's Choice", supported by Yeltsin. The referendum, however, held at the same time, had approved the new constitution, which significantly expanded the powers of the president, giving him a right to appoint the members of the government, to dismiss the prime minister and, in some cases, to dissolve the Duma [1].

Despite efforts to "improve" the government, the network of Russian government institutions remained almost as extensive as during the Soviet era. It harbored myriads of bureaucrats heavily involved in bribery and corruption.

Privatization of state property in 1993 was a very significant event. Officially, privatization was announced as fair distribution of state property among the citizens. In actuality, ordinary citizens obtained nearly worthless vouchers (one voucher was worth one bottle of vodka), whereas the people at the key positions in the governing structures gained enormous amounts of wealth. In many cases these were former communists who were in the best position because of their connections to the government. Privatization was advertised as part of the struggle against the forces that wanted to restore communism in the country.

After gaining an absolute power in the country, Yeltsin allegedly violated the law by appointing his relatives to key government positions. His daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko, a former computer programmer, became a presidential adviser in 1996. These actions were in direct violation of the Russian Federation Law "On the State Service", which states:

Article 21. A citizen cannot be accepted to state service in case he/she has is a relative of a state servant and their state service involves direct supervision of one by the other.

During Yeltsin's presidency, several of his awkward behaviors became widely known. On August 29, 1994, Yeltsin attempted to direct an orchestra during his visit to Germany. His state during the incident was characterized by the journalist as "unsober". This episode was captured on tape [2]. In September 1994 (according to General Alexander Korzhakov), Yeltsin ordered his press secretary Vyacheslav Kostikov thrown into Volga river in order to humiliate him. On September 30, 1994, Yeltsin failed to come out from the plane for an official meeting with the Irish Prime Minister. The official explanation was that he had overslept.

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 who previously gained their wealth because of their connections to Yeltsin's administration. According to General Korzhakov, Roman Abramovich was the major finance manager of Yeltsin's family. It is also alleged that Yeltsin provided Abramovich with protection from prosecution for various criminal activities ranging from stealing diesel fuel to illegally acquiring Sibneft at a staged contest. Despite only gaining 35% of the first round vote in the 1996 elections, Yeltsin successfully defeated his communist rival Gennady Zyuganov in the runoff election. Later that year, Yeltsin underwent heart bypass surgery and remained in the hospital for months.

During Yeltsin's presidency, he received US$40 billion in funds from the IMF and other international lending organizations which were supposed to support him politically and help Russia's economy. However, most of these funds were stolen by people from Yeltsin's circle and placed in foreign banks [citation needed]. Some believe that borrowing from the IMF shortly before the 1998 default was a carefully planned fraud.

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 May 15, 1999, Yeltsin survived yet another attempt of impeachment, this time - by the democratic and communist opposition in the State Duma. He was charged with several unconstitutional activities, most importantly, the signing of the agreements in Belovezhskaya Puscha, dissolving the Soviet Union in December 1991, the coup-d'etat in October 1993 and initiating the war in Chechnya in 1994. None of these charges received the required two-thirds majority of the Duma to initiate the process of impeachment of the president.

On August 9, 1999 Yeltsin fired his prime minister, Sergei Stepashin, and for the fourth time, fired his entire cabinet. Yeltsin was famous throughout his life for impulsive firing and reshuffling his staff. Instead, he appointed Vladimir Putin, relatively unknown at that time, as prime minister and announced his wish to see Putin as his successor.

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. His approval ratings plummeted to 5% in his last months in office. Persuaded by his daughter Tatyana Dyachenko, he resigned on December 31, 1999, and in accordance with Russian Constitution, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin became acting president until new elections were held on March 26, 2000.

As an alleged condition of Yeltsin's support of Putin, Putin warranted that neither Yeltsin nor members of his "Family" (the popular term that designates the circle of people who governed the country during his presidency) would be prosecuted for unconstitutional use of military force against the lawful parliament, violation of laws, corruption, bribery or treason.


[edit] Life after resignation

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.

Yeltsin and the members of his family that were involved in his administration enjoy a comfortable, wealthy life. The wealth that they gained through participation in government structures by far exceeds the amount that they could possibly earn as salary."Yeltsin and His Family" (Compromising Material website, in Russian) For example, in 1996 they owned two high-speed river yachts with a price tag of US$450,000, which were manufactured for them by a Swiss company. They also allegedly own a villa in France worth US$11 million and expensive facilities for horse riding. The education of Yeltsin's grandson in the UK in the mid-1990s cost about US$25,000 per year. According to General Alexander Korzhakov, Roman Abramovich handles the Yeltsin family finances.

On February 1, 2006, Yeltsin celebrated his 75th birthday. He used this occasion as an opportunity to criticize a "monopolistic" US foreign policy, and to state that Vladimir Putin was the right choice for Russia. He also discredited the accusation of corruption and the term "Family" as complete nonsense.

[edit] Trivia

[edit] References

  1. ^ The Strange Death of the Soviet Empire, page 86; ISBN 0-8050-4154-0
  2. ^ The Strange Death of the Soviet Empire, page 90; ISBN 0-8050-4154-0

[edit] External links

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Preceded by:
Oleg Lobov
Prime Minister of Russia
1991–1992
Succeeded by:
Yegor Gaidar
Preceded by:
None
President of Russia
1991-1999
Succeeded by:
Vladimir Putin



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