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  RusNet :: Encyclopedia :: Y  

Boris Yeltsin

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Updated: 21.11.2003

In full Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin, the first popularly elected president in Russis's history, who guided the country through a stormy decade of political and economic retrenching until his resignation on the eve of the year 2000. Born Feb. 1, 1931, Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg), Russia, USSR.

from 1955 to 1968 Mr Yeltsin worked on various construction projects. He joined the Communist Party in 1961 during former Premier Nikita Khrushchev's anti-Stalinist reforms. In 1976, Yeltsin became first chairman of the Sverdlovsk party committee.

In that capacity, he met Mikhail Gorbachev, who held the same position in Stavropol. When Mr Gorbachev took power in 1985, he chose Mr Yeltsin to reform the corrupt Moscow party hierarchy.

Mr Yeltsin soon became dissatisfied with the pace of perestroika, or restructuring. After challenging party conservatives and even Mr Gorbachev himself, Mr Yeltsin resigned from the party leadership in 1987 and from the Politburo in 1988.

Demoted to a deputy construction minister, Mr Yeltsin remained popular with the people of Moscow. Demonstrations, a new phenomenon in the Soviet Union, erupted in support of Mr Yeltsin. When Mr Gorbachev introduced free elections for the new congress of people's deputies in 1989, Mr Yeltsin won a landslide victory. He was later elected president of the Russian parliament despite president Gorbachev's objections.

Boris Yeltsin's finest moment came during the August 1991 coup by communist hard-liners. With president Mikhail Gorbachev detained at his country house in Crimea, Mr Yeltsin led the resistance to the coup, rallying his followers from atop an armoured car and demanding Mr Gorbachev's return. That moment would become one of the enduring portraits of the new Russia.

When the coup collapsed after a few days, Mr Gorbachev returned to Moscow but power had shifted to Mr Yeltsin, who was negotiating with the leaders of Ukraine and Belarus for an arrangement to replace the Soviet Union.

The Commonwealth of Independent States was established on December 8, 1991. Two weeks later, Mr Gorbachev resigned as president of a Soviet Union that had effectively ceased to exist.

In July 1990, Mr Yeltsin left the Communist Party. The following year, he was elected president of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic, the first popularly elected leader in Russia.

Faced with a stagnating economy, a hostile legislature, an attempted coup and a military debacle in Chechnya, Mr Yeltsin's prospects seemed bleak in the 1996 elections. But he staged another comeback, defeating communist challenger Gennady Zyuganov in a July runoff.

In November 1996, Mr Yeltsin underwent quadruple heart bypass surgery and was confined to the hospital for months; health problems become a concern throughout his presidency. He became increasingly unpopular in his second term, as he and his family entourage became tainted by allegations of corruption in a Russia that was plagued by robber baron capitalism.

On December 31, 1999, Mr Yeltsin asked a national TV audience for their forgiveness and apologises for his mistakes in a resignation speech that surprised the world's media and concluded his eight years as Russia's president. He announced that Vladimir Putin will immediately assume the duties of the president until national elections, which have been moved up from June to March.

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