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.
at Pushkin High School in Berezniki, Perm region. He studied well, and
during the whole stay at school he was the class leader (????????).
However, he had problems with discipline. He participated in street
fights and he was constantly in conflict with someone: teachers at school,
his father. In these conflicts he often came out a winner. Thus, when
his 7-year education attestation was revoked, he demanded that a committee
was formed to invistigate this case and eventually had the attestation
given back to him and the teacher responsible for revokation fired.
He passed the 10-year education exams without taking the full course.
He was fond of sports: skiing, gymnastics, volleyball, track and field,
boxing, wrestling, despite losing two fingers in a childhood accident
(said to have been the result of playing with a live grenade).
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."
he worked as a foreman at the building trust Uraltyazhtrubstroi. In
1957-1963 he worked in Sverdlovsk,and he 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.
the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) from 1961 to July 1990,
he began working in the Communist administration in 1968. He later commented
on his communist views:
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
In 1977 as party
boss in Sverdlovsk, he ordered the destruction of the Ipatiev House
where the last Tsar had been murdered. The Ipatiev House was demolished
at night time on September 17-18, 1977. In addition, 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.
Appointed to the
Politburo , Yeltsin 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". In
addition, Yeltsin was given the country house (dacha) which was previously
occupied by Gorbachev. During this period, Yeltsin portrayed himself
as a reformer and populist (for example, he took a trolleybus to work)
and fired and reshuffled 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, Yeltsin was sacked from his high-ranked party positions.
On October 21, 1987, without prior approval by Gorbachev, Yeltsin, at
the plenary meeting of the Central Commitee of the CPSU lashed out at
the Politburo expressing his discontent with the slow pace of reform
in society and servility shown to the General Secretary and 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 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 (which was confirmed by Nikolai
Ryzhkov) attempted a suicide. Yeltsin was perturbed and humiliated but
then plotted his revenge. He recovered, and started intensively criticizing
Gorbachev using the slow pace of reform in the USSR as the major argument.
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 happened with Yeltsin
during this time was him falling from the 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.
President of the
Yeltsin (far left) stands on a tank to defy the August coup in 1991.
In March 1989, Yeltsin
who became popular because of his criticism of Gorbachev 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
the chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Soviet Federated 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, 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. In his election campaign, Yeltsin criticized
the "dictatorship of the center", but did not suggest the
introduction of 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 the Crimea while Yeltsin
raced to the White House of Russia (his presidential office) 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.
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. According to Mikhail Gorbachev, the President
of the Soviet Union at that time, Yeltsin kept the plans of Belovezhskaya
meeting in strict secrecy and the main goal of dissolution of the Soviet
Union was to get rid of Gorbachev who by that time started to recover
his position after the August events. Mikhail Gorbachev also accuses
Yeltsin in violating the people's will expressed at 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 USSR 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.
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
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 the destructive activities of pro-inflation forces caused the Russian
economy to further deteriorate. The country quickly entered into a state
of anarchy 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.
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, bank savings of ordinary people were quickly deleted by inflation.
began quickly 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 came up with "eleven suitcases" of documents that
demonstrated crminal activity of Yeltsin's close associates: deputee
premier Yegor Gaydar, state secretary Gennadiy Bulbulis, minister of
press and information Mikhail Poltoranin and former premiers Vladimir
Shumeiko and Alexander Shokhin, chairman of state property comitee Anatoly
Chubais and foreign minister Andrei Kozirev. Of the 51 cases that Rutskoy
reported to state prosecution, 45 were later found correct. In response,
Yetsin fired Aleksandr Rutskoy from the position of the chairman of
the anti-corruption committee and accused that Rutskoy was involved
in corruption himself and had a Swiss bank account. These allegations
were later shown false.
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.
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 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 (1992 edition,
in Russian) , which stated:
Authority of the President of Russian Federation cannot be used to change
national and state organization of Russian Federation, dissolution or
halting activity of any elected organs of state power.
In response, the
Supreme Soviet cancelled Yeltsin's presidency in accordance with the
Constitution and assigned vice-president Rutskoy the president. Constitution
Court confirmed that these actions were legal. Thus, beginning September
23, 1993 Yeltsin technically was no longer the president. This led to
a military showdown and 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. A number
of paliament members, including Rutskoy who was technically the president,
were arrested, and Constitution Court was halted.
New elections of
the Supreme Soviet were held on December 12, 1993, and Yeltsin's opposition
easily won the majority of seats. He, however, obtained practically
an absolute power in the country by succeding in changing the Constitution.
According to the new Constitution, parliament's power was significantly
reduced. According to the new Constitution,
Article 84. The
President of the Russian Federation shall: a) call elections to the
chambers of the State Duma in accordance with the Constitution of the
Russian Federation and federal law; b) dissolve the State Duma in cases
and under procedures envisaged by the Constitution of the Russian Federation.
Despite the effort
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.
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 advertized
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,
Tatiana Diatchenko, a computer programer in the past, 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 on by the other.
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 (see Yeltsin directing an orchestra). 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 percent 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.
presidency, he received 40 billion dollars 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.
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 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.
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.
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 percent in his last
months in office. 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.
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.
According to numerous
reports, Yeltsin was a heavy drinker. Moreover, his alcoholism played
a role in significant decisions that had effect on Russia and the whole
* In 1989, Yeltsin
went to the USA to give a series of speeches on social and political
life in the Soviet Union. That trip was described by a scandalous publication
in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. The article reported that Yeltsin
often appeared drunk in public. The article was reprinted by Pravda.
* According to
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, President Bill Clinton
was exposed to Yeltsin's alcoholism in their first phone call when Yeltsin
called to congratulate him on Inauguration Day in 1993. Yeltsin was
drunk. He was drunk again during the first summit meeting they had with
Clinton in Vancouver. Talbott recalls that Yeltsin was so drunk when
he arrived in the airport in September 1994 that he could barely get
off the plane. The same night Yeltsin was staggering around in his underpants
shouting for pizza. According to Talbott, that was a huge problem, and
they did their best not to add to the public embarrassment. Phone calls
to Yeltsin had to be timed to increase the probability to get him sober.
During the Kosovo bombing, Yeltsin, who was obviously drunk, suggested
that he and Clinton meet on a submarine.
* The portrayal
of Yeltsin as a drunk in TV show Kukly by Victor Shenderovich has led
to a criminal investigation, which was later dropped.
* Gwynne Dyer,
a London-based independent journalist, commented in The Moscow Times
on April 13, 1999:
"I have seen
President Boris Yeltsin drunk and I'm pretty sure I have seen him sober,
but unless he does something obvious like singing or falling over, it
takes a while to decide: Both his body language and his speech patterns
tend to blur the issue."
Life after resignation
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
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. According to "Yeltsin and His Family"
(Compromising Material website, in Russian), the wealth that they gained
through participation in government structures by far exceeds the amount
that they could possibly earn as the salary. For example, in 1996 they
owned two high-speed river yachts with a price tag of 450,000 dollars,
which were manufactured for them by a Swiss company. They also allegedly
own an 11-million dollar villa in France and expensive facilities for
horse riding. Education of Yeltsin's grandson in the UK in the mid 90s
costed about 25,000 dollars per year. According to general Korzhakov,
Roman Abramovich handles finances of Yeltsin's family.
On February 1st
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.