THE first-ever popularly elected leader of Russia, Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin was a protÃ©gÃ© of Mikhail Gorbachev's. Ironically, Yeltsin would both save and end Gorbachev's rule.
Born on February 1, 1931, in Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg), Yeltsin worked on various construction projects from 1955 to 1968. He joined the Communist Party in 1961 during Khrushchev's anti-Stalinist reforms. In 1976, Yeltsin became first chairman of the Sverdlovsk party committee. In that capacity, he met Gorbachev, who held the same position in Stavropol.
When Gorbachev took power in 1985, he chose Yeltsin to reform the corrupt Moscow party hierarchy. In 1986, Gorbachev made Yeltsin a non-voting member of the Politburo. Yeltsin, widely hailed as an effective reformer, soon became dissatisfied with the pace of perestroika, or restructuring. After challenging party conservatives and even Gorbachev himself, Yeltsin resigned from the party leadership in 1987 and from the Politburo in 1988.
Demoted to a deputy construction minister, Yeltsin remained popular with the people of Moscow. Popular demonstrations -- a new phenomenon in the U.S.S.R. -- erupted in support of Yeltsin. When Gorbachev introduced contested elections for the new Congress of People's Deputies in 1989, Yeltsin won a landslide victory. He was later elected president of the Russian parliament over Gorbachev's objections.
In July 1990, Yeltsin quit the Communist Party. The following year, he was elected president of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic, the first popularly elected leader in Russian history.
Yeltsin's place in history was assured during the August 1991 coup by communist hard-liners. With Gorbachev detained at his country house, Yeltsin became the leader of the resistance to the coup, rallying his followers and demanding Gorbachev's return.
When the coup collapsed after a few days, Gorbachev did return to Moscow -- but the centre of power had shifted. On August 23, Yeltsin humiliated Gorbachev in front of the Russian parliament, forcing him to read out documents implicating Gorbachev's own party colleagues in the coup against him.
Meanwhile, Yeltsin was negotiating with the leaders of Ukraine and Belarus for a new arrangement to replace the Soviet Union. When the Commonwealth of Independent States was established on December 8, 1991, US President Bush was notified before Gorbachev. On December 25, Gorbachev resigned as president of a Soviet Union that had effectively ceased to exist.
Faced with a stagnating economy, a hostile legislature, an attempted coup and a military debacle in Chechnya, Yeltsin's prospects seemed dim in the 1996 elections. But Yeltsin staged another comeback, defeating communist challenger Gennady Zyuganov in a July runoff.
In November 1996, Yeltsin underwent quadruple heart bypass surgery and was confined to the hospital for months; health problems would continue to be a concern throughout his presidency.
Yeltsin became increasingly unpopular in his second term, as economic progress remained elusive and rumours of ill health became more pervasive. He appeared in public more sporadically, replacing government ministers as crises arose. On New Year's Eve 1999, Yeltsin surprised his nation and much of the world by announcing his resignation -- giving Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin the additional title of acting president.
Some quotes from Yeltsin
The funeral of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin was held in Moscow on Wednesday. Here are some of the things he said:
â€œLetâ€™s not talk about communism. Communism was just an idea, just a pie in the sky.â€ â€” 1989, on a visit to the United States.
â€œStrikes have already begun in Leningrad and some factories in the Urals have walked out. Wherever my appeal for a strike is heard, people back it.â€ â€” August 19, 1991, after he climbed on a tank outside Parliament and urged supporters to resist communist hardliners who had launched a coup against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
â€œLife has shown us with some brutality that Russia cannot feel safe without its own national guard.â€ â€” August 22, 1991, to adulating supporters after the coup was thwarted.
â€œ(The war) may have been one of my mistakes.â€ â€” on the Chechen war he began in 1994.
â€œIt just happened â€” what can one do?â€ â€” September 30, 1994, explaining that he had overslept on a refuelling stop in Ireland, failing to meet Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds who was waiting to receive him.
â€œA man must live like a great bright flame and burn as brightly as he can. In the end he burns out. But that is better than a mean little flame.â€ â€” 1990, talking to a reporter from The Times newspaper.
â€œWe are stuck half-way, having left the old shore; we keep floundering in a stream of problems which engulf us and prevent us from reaching a new shore.â€ â€” 1997 state of the nation address, about painful transition from a planned to a capitalist economy.
â€œThe living standards of most of the Russian citizens, already low, are still sinking.â€
â€œEmotions sometimes get the upper hand in assessing the Russian-American partnership. This is not the approach that Bill and I have.â€ â€” March 1997, at a news conference with US President Bill Clinton after their summit.
â€œThe eastward expansion of NATO is a mistake and a serious one at that. Nevertheless, in order to minimise the negative consequences for Russia, we decided to sign an agreement with NATO.â€ â€” on NATO enlargement, at same news conference.
Yeltsin: Soviet Union dismantler is gone