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Boris Yeltsin

[yelt-sin]

Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin (1 February 1931 23 April 2007) was the first President of the Russian Federation, serving from 1991 to 1999.

Yeltsin came to power with a wave of high expectations. On 12 June 1991 he was elected president of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic with 57% of the vote, becoming the first popularly elected president. But Yeltsin never recovered his popularity after a series of economic and political crises in Russia in the 1990s. The Yeltsin era was marked by widespread corruption, economic collapse, and enormous political and social problems. By the time he left office, Yeltsin had an approval rating of two percent by some estimates.

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991, Yeltsin, vowing to transform Russia's socialist command economy into a free market economy, endorsed price liberalization and privatization programs. Due to corruption and other factors, a good deal of the national wealth fell into the hands of a relatively small group of people.

In August 1991, Yeltsin won international plaudits for casting himself as a democrat and defying the August coup attempt of 1991 by the members of Soviet government opposed to perestroika. He left office widely unpopular with the Russian population as an ineffectual and ailing autocrat. He either acted as his own prime minister (until June 1992) or appointed men of his choice, regardless of parliament. His confrontations with parliament climaxed in the October 1993 Russian constitutional crisis, when Yeltsin called up tanks to shell the Russian White House, blasting out his opponents in parliament. Later in 1993, Yeltsin imposed a new constitution with strong presidential powers, which was approved by referendum in December.

Just hours before the first day of 2000, Yeltsin made a surprise announcement of his resignation, leaving the presidency in the hands of Vladimir Putin.

Early life

Boris Yeltsin was born in the village of Butka, in Talitsky District of Sverdlovsk Oblast, Russia. His father, Nikolay Yeltsin, was convicted of anti-Soviet agitation in 1934 and sentenced to hard labour in a gulag for three years. Following his release he remained unemployed for a period of time and then worked in construction. His mother, Klavdiya Vasilyevna Yeltsina, worked as a seamstress.

Boris Yeltsin studied at Pushkin High School in Berezniki in Perm Krai. He was fond of sports (in particular skiing, gymnastics, volleyball, track and field, boxing and wrestling) despite losing the thumb and index finger of his left hand when he and some friends sneaked into a Red Army supply depot, stole several grenades, and tried to dissect them.

Yeltsin received his higher education at the Ural State Technical University in Sverdlovsk, majoring in construction, and graduated in 1955. The subject of his degree paper was "Television Tower".

From 1955 to 1957 he worked as a foreman with the building trust Uraltyazhtrubstroy and from 1957 to 1963 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 till 1985.

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 programme and the classics, re-reading the works of Lenin, Marx and Engels."

In 1977 as party boss in Sverdlovsk, Yeltsin—on orders from Moscow—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, 27 July 1977. Also during Yeltsin's stay 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.

He was appointed to the Politburo, and was also "Mayor" of Moscow (First Secretary of the CPSU Moscow City Committee) from 24 December 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 Mikhail Gorbachev about Gorbachev's wife, Raisa, meddling in affairs of the state, Yeltsin was sacked from his high ranking party positions. On 21 October 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 at the plenary meeting of the Moscow City Party Committee proposed relieving Yeltsin of his post of first secretary. Nobody backed Yeltsin. Criticism of Yeltsin continued on 11 November 1987 at the meeting of the Moscow City Party Committee. After Yeltsin admitted that his speech had been a mistake, he was fired from the post of first secretary of the Moscow City Committee. He was demoted to the position of first deputy commissioner for the State Committee for Construction. After being fired, Yeltsin was hospitalized and later (confirmed by Nikolai Ryzhkov) attempted suicide. 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. An article published in Pravda described him as being drunk at a lecture during his 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.

President of the RSFSR

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.

On 29 May 1990, he was elected chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian SFSR (RSFSR), the post he held until 10 July 1991. 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 and Yeltsin quit the CPSU in July 1990.

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. 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.

On 18 August 1991, a coup against Gorbachev was launched by the government members opposed to perestroika 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 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'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.

On 6 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 8 December, Yeltsin met with Ukrainian president Leonid Kravchuk and the leader of Belarus, Stanislav 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 24 December, 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, thereby ending the world's largest and most influential socialist 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

Radical reforms

Just days after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Boris Yeltsin resolved to embark on a program of radical economic reform, with the aim of restructuring Russia's economic system—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 favoring a rapid approach and those favoring a gradual or slower approach.

In late 1991 Yeltsin turned to the advice of Western economists, and Western institutions such as the IMF, the World Bank, and the U.S. Treasury Department, who had developed a standard policy recipe for transition economies in the late 1980s. This policy recipe came to be known as the "Washington Consensus" or "shock therapy", a combination of measures intended to liberalize prices and stabilize the state's budget. Such measures had been attempted in Poland, and advocates of "shock therapy" felt the same could be done in Russia. Some Russian policymakers were skeptical that this was the way to go, but the approach was favored by Yeltsin's deputy, Yegor Gaidar, a 35-year-old Russian economist inclined toward radical reform.

On 2 January 1992, Yeltsin, acting as his own prime minister, ordered the liberalization of foreign trade, prices, and currency. At the same time, Yeltsin followed a policy of 'macroeconomic stabilization,' a harsh austerity regime designed to control inflation. Under Yeltsin's stabilization program, 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 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 programs. Through the 1990s, Russia's GDP fell by 50 percent, vast sectors of the economy were wiped out, inequality and unemployment grew dramatically, while incomes fell. Hyperinflation, caused by the Central Bank of Russia's loose monetary policy, wiped out a lot of 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 Western-backed economic program for the country's disastrous economic performance in the 1990s. Many politicians began to quickly distance themselves from the program. In February 1992, Russia's vice president, Alexander Rutskoy denounced the Yeltsin program 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 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. Eventually, on 14 December, Viktor Chernomyrdin, seen as a compromise figure, was confirmed in the office.

The conflict escalated on 20 March 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 26 March 1993. Yeltsin's opponents gathered more than 600 votes for impeachment, but fell 72 votes short of the required two-thirds majority. On 21 September 1993 Yeltsin 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 his breaching the constitution, and Vice-President Alexander Rutskoy was sworn in as the acting president.

Between 21–24 September Yeltsin was confronted by significant popular unrest, encouraging the defenders of the parliament. Moscow saw what amounted to a spontaneous mass uprising of anti-Yeltsin demonstrators numbering in the tens of thousands marching in the streets resolutely seeking to aid forces defending the parliament building. 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, Russia's parliament building, blasting out his opponents. As a result, hundreds died and thousands were wounded.

As Supreme Soviet was dissolved, in December 1993 elections to the newly established parliament, the State Duma, were held. 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.

Chechnya

In December 1994, Yeltsin ordered the military invasion of Chechnya in an attempt to restore Moscow's control over the separatist republic. Nearly two years later Yeltsin withdrew federal forces from the devastated Chechnya under a 1996 peace agreement brokered by Alexander Lebed, then Yeltsin's 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 collapse of the Soviet Union, Yeltsin promoted privatization 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, privatization 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 privatization in Russia.

In late 1992, Yeltsin launched a program of free vouchers as a way to give mass privatization a jump-start. Under the program, all Russian citizens were issued vouchers, each with a nominal value of around 10,000 rubles, for purchase of shares of select state enterprises. Although each citizen initially received a voucher of equal face value, within months most 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 spring 1996 presidential elections, the Russian president prepared for a new wave of privatization offering stock shares in some of Russia's most valuable state enterprises in exchange for bank loans. The program was promoted as a way of simultaneously speeding up privatization and ensuring the government a much-needed infusion of cash for 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. By summer 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 backers. 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.

The Yeltsin/Senator Helms interchange

On 5 December 1991, Senator Jesse Helms, ranking member of the Minority Staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, wrote to Boris 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, while being interviewed aboard his presidential jet on his way to the United States, "Our archives have shown that it is true — some of them were transferred to the territory of the U.S.S.R. and were kept in labor 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 Yeltsin concerning American servicemen, he again wrote to Yeltsin, this time concerning KAL 007.

"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." In March of 1992, Yeltsin would hand over KAL 007's Black Box without its tapes to Korean President Roh Tae-Woo at the end of the plenary session of the Korean National Assembly with this statement, "We apologize for the tragedy and are trying to settle some unsolved issues."

Yeltsin would ultimately respond on 8 January 1992 by handing over to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) of the United Nations what the Russians had for so many years denied possessing: the tapes of the KAL 007's "Black Box" (its Digital Flight Data Recorder and Cockpit Voice Recorder).

The openness of Yeltsin about POW/MIA and KAL 007 matters may also have signaled 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 U.S. but never admitted that the Sverdlovsk anthrax leak of 2 April 1979 had been caused as a result of a mishap at a military facility. The Russian government has maintained that the cause was contaminated meat. The true number of victims in the anthrax outbreak at Sverdlovsk, about east of Moscow, is not known.

1996 presidential election

In February 1996, Yeltsin announced that he would seek a second term in the spring 1996 Russian presidential election. 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 opened at the beginning of 1996, Yeltsin's popularity was close to zero. Meanwhile, the opposition Communist Party of the Russian Federation had already gained ground in parliamentary voting on 17 December 1995, and its candidate, Gennady Zyuganov, had a strong grass roots organization, 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 socialist domestic order.

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 presidential elections and effectively rule as 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 reelection campaign.

In the spring of 1996, Chubais and Yeltsin recruited a team of a handful of financial and media oligarchs to bankroll the Yeltsin campaign and guaranteed favorable media coverage 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. 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 were 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 his more unpopular economic reforms, boost welfare spending, end the war in Chechnya, and pay wage and pension arrears. Yeltsin's campaign also got a boost from the announcement of a $10 billion loan to the Russian government from the International Monetary Fund.

Zyuganov, who lacked Yeltsin's resources and financial backing, saw his strong initial lead whittle away. After the first round on 16 June Yeltsin appointed a highly popular candidate Alexander Lebed, who came in third 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".

In his second term, Yeltsin was unable to follow through on most of his campaign promises, except for ending the Chechen war, which was halted for most of the period.

Yeltsin's second term

In July 1996, Yeltsin was re-elected as president with financial support from influential business oligarchs who owed their wealth to their connections with Yeltsin's administration. Despite only gaining 35% of the first round vote in the 1996 elections, Yeltsin defeated his communist rival Gennady Zyuganov with 54% in the runoff election. Later that year, Yeltsin underwent an emergency quintuple heart bypass surgery and remained in the hospital for months.

During Yeltsin's presidency, Russia received US$ 40 billion in funds from the IMF and other international lending organizations. However, his opponents allege that most of these funds were stolen by people from Yeltsin's circle and placed in 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 ruble to collapse in the 1998 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 toward military action. Otherwise there will be a European war for sure and possibly world war.

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.

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 President 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 while visiting China to seek support on Chechnya, Yeltsin replied to Clinton’s criticism of a Russian ultimatum to citizens of Grozney. 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 Vladimir Putin to downplay Yeltsin's comments and present reassurances about U.S. and Russian relations.

Resignation

On 31 December 1999, in a surprise announcement aired at 12:00 noon 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 beg forgiveness for your dreams that never came true. And also I would like to beg forgiveness not to have justified your hopes."

Alleged alcoholism and neurological disorder

According to numerous reports, Yeltsin struggled with alcoholism. 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. That trip was described by a report in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. The article reported that Yeltsin often appeared drunk in public. The article was reprinted by Pravda. Yeltsin's 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 after his flight stop-over at Shannon Airport, Ireland in September 1994 when the waiting Irish Taoiseach (prime minister) Albert Reynolds was told that Yeltsin was unwell and would not be leaving the aircraft.

According to former Deputy Prime Minister of Russia Boris Nemtsov, the bizarre behavior of Yeltsin resulted from "strong drugs" given to him by Kremlin's doctors, which were incompatible even with a small amount of alcohol. This was discussed by journalist Yelena Tregubova from the "Kremlin's 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 Yeltsin, in his memoirs, claimed no recollection of the event but did however 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. Similarly, Yeltsin made a hasty withdrawal from the funeral of Hussein of Jordan in February 1999. (Russian: Елена Трегубова. Байки кремлевского диггера., Mосква., Ad Marginem, 2003 ISBN 5-93321-073-0 Full text in Russian German translation

After Yeltsin's death, a Dutch neurosurgeon revealed that his team was 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.

Life after resignation

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 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.

Yeltsin maintained a low profile after his resignation, making almost no public statements or appearances. However, 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 vacationing on the Italian island of Sardinia.

On 1 February 2006, Yeltsin celebrated his 75th birthday. He used this occasion as an opportunity to criticize a "monopolistic" U.S. foreign policy, and to state that Vladimir Putin was the right choice for Russia. He also disputed accusations of corruption.

Passion for tennis

Yeltsin also used his retirement to pursue his considerable love of tennis. He was a frequent fixture at tournaments held in Russia, notably Russian Davis Cup and Federation Cup team events. Far from a passive supporter like many VIPs who attend sports events, Yeltsin gained a reputation as an animated fan, cheering and jumping in support of the Russians. When the Russian men won the Davis Cup in 2002 and 2006 Yeltsin descended the stands to celebrate with the players, group hugging the team.

Following his death in April 2007, his widow, Naina, attended in Yeltsin's place the final of that year's Federation Cup, in which Russia's women comprehensively beat Italy.

Death

Boris Yeltsin died of congestive heart failure on 23 April 2007 at the age of 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 state in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow. Yeltsin was the first Russian statesman in 113 years to be buried in a church ceremony, after Emperor Alexander III. He was also the first leader in Russian and Soviet history to die quietly in retirement having overseen a peaceful transfer to his successor, Lenin being forced to retire by illness and Khrushchev being ousted in a coup.

President Putin declared the day of his funeral a national day of mourning, with flags flown at half-staff and all entertainment programs suspended for the day.

Yeltsin is 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.

Reaction

—Russian president Vladimir Putin said, 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 (Yeltsin) 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 offer my deepest condolences to the family of a man on whose shoulders rested many great deeds for the good of the country and serious mistakes—a tragic fate".

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