Yeltsin, Boris Nikolayevich

Yeltsin, Boris Nikolayevich
   Born in the village of Butko in Sverdlovsk Oblast, Boris Yeltsin was the son of a construction worker and a seamstress. As a youth, he lost the thumb and index finger of his left hand while dismantling a grenade he stole from a weapons depot. After studying construction, he worked as a foreman in Sverdlovsk, climbing the ranks of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU).
   From a humble apparatchik, he became First Secretary of the CPSU in the oblast in 1976, holding the position for a decade. In that capacity, he ordered the site of the last Romanovs’ execution, Ipatyev House, to be razed. Yeltsin’s move to Moscow in 1985 coincided with the appointment of Mikhail Gorbachev as general secretary of the CPSU. Yeltsin assumed the position of first secretary of the CPSU Moscow City Committee, effectively becoming mayor of the city. Backed by Gorbachev and Yegor Ligachev, Yeltsin assumed the role of reformer, using populism to guarantee his support from the city’s residents. However, in 1987, he was stripped of his position in a dispute that began over the role of Gorbachev’s wife, Raisa, in Soviet politics and ended with Yeltsin’s denunciation of the slow pace of reform and the CPSU leadership.
   Despite a failed suicide attempt, a lack of funds, and a media smear campaign instituted by the CPSU, Yeltsin was able to use his popularity among the masses and the relatively new practice of television campaigning to return to public life in 1989. He was elected to the newly formed Congress of People’s Deputies, where he railed against the gerontocracy’s stifling of perestroika. Embracing his role as an antiestablishment folk hero, Yeltsin managed to win the position of chairman of the Russian Supreme Soviet in May 1990. He quit the Communist Party a few months later, refashioning himself as a nationalist; he also began supporting free-market reforms, following a fateful trip to the United States a year earlier. On 12 June 1991, democratic elections were held for the office of president of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic; Yeltsin won 57 percent of the vote, easily defeating the Gorbachevbacked CPSU candidate Nikolay Ryzhkov. At the time of the August Coup against Gorbachev, Yeltsin was visiting Kazakhstan. Upon his return to the capital, he rallied the public and segments of the military—most dramatically from the turret of a T-72 tank—against the Communist hard-liners, resulting in the putsch’s failure. In the wake of the event, he was hailed as a hero at home and abroad. He quickly eclipsed Gorbachev as the preeminent politician in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and moved to outlaw the CPSU; he also recognized the independence of the Baltic States. In December, he met with the leaders of Belarus and Ukraine outside Minsk, where he signed the Belavezha Accords, effectively terminating Russian membership in the USSR. Later that month, he and the leaders of the remaining union republics agreed to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
   As president of the newly independent Russian Federation, Yeltsin moved quickly to eradicate state control of the economy based on the radical shock therapy model. He introduced neoliberal reforms, slashed price subsidies, stripped the welfare and health care systems, and allowed the ruble to float. Taking cues from the Western economists Anders Åslund and Jeffrey Sachs, Yeltsin’s financial advisor Yegor Gaydar oversaw what was to be the first wave of privatization, through a vouchers plan (a later wave of state sell-offs of assets would be undertaken through the controversial loans for shares program). The result was hyperinflation, massive unemployment, Soviet nostalgia, and ultranationalism.
   Resentful of Yeltsin’s increasingly powerful executive branch, a number of parliamentarians moved against him in 1993, precipitating the constitutional crisis. Yeltsin used force to bring the situation under control. He abolished both the Supreme Soviet and the Congress of People’s Deputies in the aftermath, weakening his image as a genuine democrat abroad, though he retained the confidence and support of U.S. President Bill Clinton. When the new parliament was seated, the State Duma was packed with members of the right-wing Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) and left-wing Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF). Collectively, they represented a rising tide of angst directed at the rapid changes going on inside the country while Yeltsin was trying to keep on the path of reform.
   In terms of foreign relations, Yeltsin used the early years of independence to solidify and then manage Russia’s role as the rightful heir of the USSR. His country assumed the Soviet Union’s permanent seat (and thus veto power) on the United Nations Security Council, as well as all of the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons. He developed ties with historic enemies such as Turkey, Japan, and South Korea, while forging new relationships with the former Soviet republics. His approach toward the near abroad—manifested through the use of peacekeepers, economic domination, and geopolitical manipulation— was often described as the Monroeski Doctrine, reflecting Russia’s notion of the region as its “backyard.” In his first term, he also pursued a decidedly Atlanticist foreign relations orientation, hoping to bind Russia to the European Union and North America. His hopes of turning Russia into a “normal country,” however, would be dashed in the later years of his administration, as the rise of nationalism and Eurasianism prompted a return to a more traditional orientation vis-à-vis the West.
   As he moved toward his reelection campaign, Yeltsin’s advisors suggested he embark on a short, popular war to reintegrate the breakaway Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya into the federation. The first Chechen War proved to be neither short nor popular, and dragged the economy down further. Desperate for cash, Yeltsin auctioned off shares of major state enterprises for loans to his government, redistributing much of the country’s mineral wealth and industry into the hands of the oligarchs.
   Going into the 1996 presidential election, Yeltsin suffered from abysmal popularity ratings and had grown insular, surrounding himself only with trusted advisors, deep-pocketed backers, and relatives who were referred to, both collectively and derisively, as “the Family.” However, the skillful use of political technologies, economic and media backing from the oligarchs, and fear that the KPRF would lead the country toward civil unrest and into a new Cold War allowed Yeltsin to scrape by in the first round. After co-opting the popular general Aleksandr Lebed, he decisively defeated his KPRF challenger Gennady Zyuganov in the second poll.
   Yeltsin’s second term was marred by the 1998 ruble crisis, which wiped out many Russians’ savings and savaged the already flagging economy. Cognizant of his own weakness, he took the country in a more anti-Western direction, appointing the nationalist Yevgeny Primakov as prime minister and pushing back against the U.S. on the enlargement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the war in Yugoslavia, and Chechnya.
   Plagued by low popularity ratings, poor health, and the looming threat of impeachment and subsequent corruption charges, Yeltsin began paving the way for his successor in 1999. He shuffled Vladimir Putin from one important post to another, until the former KGB agent was prime minister. Assured that Putin’s aggressive management of the second Chechen War was sufficient to get him elected, Yeltsin unexpectedly stepped down on 31 December 1999, begging his constituents for their forgiveness. He appointed Putin as acting president of the Russian Federation. Shortly thereafter, Putin issued a decree granting Yeltsin and his family immunity from prosecution for corruption or misuse of state funds. In retirement, Yeltsin rarely spoke out against his successor, though he did make known his dissatisfaction with the 2004–2005 electoral reforms in the wake of the Beslan crisis.
   During his administration, Yeltsin struggled with alcoholism and a neurological disorder that affected his balance. He began suffering heart pains as early as 1987; he experienced a heart attack during the 1996 election campaign and underwent bypass surgery later that year. His other health ailments included back pain, bouts of pneumonia, debilitating infections, liver problems, and a stomach ulcer. He died of congestive heart failure on 23 April 2007.
   He received a Russian Orthodox ceremony at Christ the Savior Cathedral, and was laid to rest at Novodevichy Cemetery, near Nikita Khrushchev and the writers Boris Pasternak and Mikhail Bulgakov. His funeral was attended by George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, among other foreign dignitaries. He is survived by his wife of more than 50 years, Naina Yeltsina, and their two daughters.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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  • Yeltsin,Boris Nikolayevich — Yel·tsin (yĕltʹsĭn), Boris Nikolayevich. Born 1931. Russian politician who was elected president of the republic of Russia in 1991. He was reelected to the position in 1996. * * * …   Universalium

  • Yeltsin, Boris Nikolayevich — (1931– )    Boris Yeltsin rose quickly in the Communist Party to head the Sverdlovsk party apparatus in the late 1970s. He was, however, twice deeply embarrassed by the KGB in the 1970s. KGB Chair Yuri Andropov ordered him to destroy the house in …   Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence

  • Yeltsin, Boris (Nikolayevich) — born Feb. 1, 1931, Sverdlovsk, Russia, U.S.S.R. Russian politician and president of Russia (1990–99). After attending the Urals Polytechnic Institute, he worked at construction projects in western Russia (1955–68). He became Communist Party… …   Universalium

  • Yeltsin, Boris Nikolayevich — ▪ 2008  Russian politician born Feb. 1, 1931 , Sverdlovsk [now Yekaterinburg], Russia, U.S.S.R. died April 23, 2007 , Moscow, Russia as independent Russia s first popularly elected president (1991–99), guided the country through a stormy decade… …   Universalium

  • Yeltsin, Boris — ▪ president of Russia in full  Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin   born February 1, 1931, Sverdlovsk [now Yekaterinburg], Russia, U.S.S.R. died April 23, 2007, Moscow, Russia  Russian politician, who became president of Russia in 1990. In 1991 he became …   Universalium

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  • Nikolayevich — (as used in expressions) Nikolay Nikolayevich Aleksandr Nikolayevich Baryshnikov Mikhail Nikolayevich Benois Alexandre Nikolayevich Kosygin Aleksey Nikolayevich Kuropatkin Aleksey Nikolayevich Milyukov Pavel Nikolayevich Ostrovsky Aleksandr… …   Universalium

  • Boris — /bawr is, bohr , bor /; Russ. /bu rddyees /, n. a male given name. * * * (as used in expressions) Becker Boris Franz Boris I Chain Sir Ernst Boris Godunov Boris Fyodorovich Karloff Boris Pasternak Boris Leonidovich Spassky Boris Vasilyevich… …   Universalium

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