Boris Yeltsin led the opposition to the Communist coup attempt against the government of Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991. Although Gorbachev was Yeltsin's political rival, Yeltsin saw that the Communist hardliners in charge of the coup attempt would make the reforms Yeltsin desired more difficult to implement.
On Aug. 18, 1991, conservatives from the Soviet government of Russia attempted to take over the government of the Soviet Union. They were opposed to Gorbachev's policy of perestroika, which de-emphasized the importance of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, instituted democratic reforms and shifted the economy away from central planning. Though Yeltsin believed that these reforms were too slow, he preferred them to the policies of the communist hardliners in charge of the coup.
In response to the coup, Yeltsin published a denunciation of the coup, encouraging Soviet citizens to strike. He also climbed atop one of the tanks mobilized in front of the Russian White House, giving a defiant speech against the coup that inspired the people of Russia and the Soviet Union in general. By staying in Moscow despite the danger of attack by military members loyal to the coup, Yeltsin rallied the masses of the city to defy the coup attempt, which ultimately fizzled out in the face of such mass opposition. His efforts made him an international political celebrity.