Birth Name: Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin
Date of Birth: 1 February 1931
Place of Birth: Butka, Ural Oblast, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Date of Death: 23 April 2007 (Seventy-Six Years of Age)
Place of Death: Moscow, Russia
Cause of Death: Congestive Heart Failure
Place of Burial: Novodevichy Cemetery
Spouse(s): Naina Yeltsina (Married in 1956)
Children: Tatyana Yumasheva (Daughter); Elena Borisovna Okulova (Daughter)
Father: Nikolai Yeltsin
Mother: Klavdiya Vasilyevna Yeltsina
Siblings: Mikhail Yeltsin (Brother); Valya Yeltsina (Sister)
Occupation(s): Engineer; Politician; First Secretary of the Moscow City Committee of the Communist Party; Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian SFSR; President of the Russian Federation
Political Affiliation: Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1961-1990); Independent (After 1990)
Education: Ural State Technical University
Best Known For: First elected President of Russian Federation
Quick Facts About Yeltsin
Quick Fact #1: Boris Yeltsin was born in Butka, Ural Oblast on 1 February 1931 to Nikolai and Klavdiya Yeltsin. After suffering from forced collectivization in their region, the Yeltsin family moved when Boris was still a baby to Kazan (Nearly 1,100 kilometers away) to pursue work outside of their traditional agricultural-based life. Nikolai found work in construction; a career he maintained for the remainder of his life. Although Yeltsin’s father was sentenced to two years in the Gulag for supposed “anti-Soviet” tendencies, he was later released in 1936, moving his family to Berezniki in the Perm Krai.
Quick Fact #2: Boris studied at Pushkin High-School in Berezniki, where he was quite fond of sports (in particular skiing, volleyball, track, boxing, wrestling, and gymnastics). In 1949, Boris was later admitted to the Ural Polytechnic Institute in Yekaterinburg, where he majored in construction. Upon graduating in 1955, young Boris began work as a foreman in the building trust known as “Uraltyazhtrubstroy,” and later pursued work as a construction site supervisor for the “Construction Directorate” of the Yuzhgorstroy Trust.
Quick Fact #3: Yeltsin’s career continued to expand in the Sixties as he became chief engineer of the Yuzhgorstroy Trust in 1963, and later the head of “Sverdlovsk House-Building Combine” in 1965. In was in the late Sixties (1968) that young Boris joined the CPSU, where he was appointed head of construction in the Sverdlovsk Regional Party Committee. Like Yeltsin’s construction career, he quickly rose through the ranks of the Communist Party, becoming secretary of the regional committee in 1975, and First Secretary of the CPSU Committee of Sverdlovsk Oblast only a year later. The promotion to First Secretary was crucial for Yeltsin’s future political ambitions, as Sverdlovsk was considered one of the most important regions (industrial) of the USSR. It was here that Yeltsin first became acquainted with Mikhail Gorbachev.
Quick Fact #4: After Gorbachev’s rise to power in 1985, Yeltsin’s early acquaintance with Gorbachev proved quite fruitful as he was chosen to begin an anti-corruption campaign throughout Moscow. Gorbachev also elevated Yeltsin to the Politburo the following year, and also appointed him mayor of Moscow, where he gained a reputation for his reformist tendencies and his anti-corruption efforts. However, later in the year (1986), Yeltsin and Gorbachev’s relationship began to take a turn for the worse, as Yeltsin became a strong critic of Gorbachev’s political reforms; in particular, the slow pace of economic and political reforms that had been promised by the new leader. As a result, Yeltsin was forced to resign from the party leadership in 1987, and from the Politburo in 1988.
Quick Facts Continued...
Quick Fact #5: Despite the Soviet regime’s effort to silence Yeltsin, he continued to maintain strong support from Soviet voters due to his commitment of democratic, economic, and political reforms. Following Gorbachev’s decision to implement competitive-style elections in the newly formed Soviet Parliament (1989), Yeltsin was able to secure a seat in March of that year after scoring a landslide victory against political opponents. A year later, Yeltsin was elected by the parliament to serve as President of the Russian Republic. In this new role, Yeltsin advocated for greater autonomy in the Soviet republics, and argued in favor of a capitalist-style economy. Only a few months later, Yeltsin officially left the Communist Party, as he felt that it no longer represented his political beliefs.
Quick Fact #6: In June of 1991, Yeltsin won election to President of the Russian Republic in the first democratically held election in Soviet history, while simultaneously leading the charge against an attempted coup. Following the coup’s defeat (which had been led by prominent communist leaders in opposition to Gorbachev), Yeltsin became the Soviet Union’s most important and most powerful figure. By December 1991, Yeltsin, along with the presidents of Belarus and the Ukraine, established the “Commonwealth of Independent States,” which replaced the Soviet Union after its collapse under Gorbachev. By 25 December, Yeltsin was officially declared President of the Russian government, and immediately went to work establishing free markets, private enterprises, and ending government control over the economy. By 1993, Yeltsin dissolved the Russian Congress and called for additional elections to replace the Soviet-era politicians that had remained in power following the transitional period. Following a brief coup attempt, which was put down quickly by the Russian army, a new Russian Constitution was adopted, providing increased powers to the President.
Quick Fact #7: As Yeltsin’s second term as President began to near, Yeltsin’s early success as President began to dwindle by the mid-1990s. With the secession of Chechnya from Russia in 1991, Yeltsin made a bold attempt in December of 1994 to suppress the rebel forces by deploying Russian troops into Chechnya. The war (which was full of human-rights violations and atrocities from the Russian side) rapidly eroded Yeltsin’s popularity across the country. Combined with his failure to spur economic growth through the incorporation of free-market reforms, Yeltsin’s popularity plummeted. Despite these setbacks, Yeltsin still managed to overcome a Communist challenger during the elections of 1996, as he promised to make good on the reforms originally promised during his first term in office. After securing a marginal victory over his opponent, Yeltsin signed a cease-fire treaty with Chechnya. He also set to work firing his entire cabinet, and removed four premiers from the country’s government.
Quick Fact #8: Despite his energetic attempts to reform the Russian government, Yeltsin’s final years in office were plagued with numerous issues, made worse by the fact that his health was beginning to decline rapidly (Yeltsin had suffered a massive heart attack in 1996). Despite peace talks with Chechnya, tensions continued to grow as Chechnyan rebels invaded the Russian republic of Dagestan in August of 1999, and orchestrated a series of bombings across the Russian Federation that lasted well over a month. With the return of Russian troops to Chechnya in 1999 and the political structure of Yeltsin’s government in a state of chaos, Yeltsin announced his resignation on 31 December 1999 (after nearly being impeached by the Russian Duma). Realizing the need for different leadership, Yeltsin appointed his Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, to serve as acting President for the Russian Federation, effective immediately. In return, Putin granted Yeltsin full immunity from any forms of prosecution in the future.
Quick Fact #9: Yeltsin maintained a relatively low profile during the years following his resignation, and made virtually no public appearances or statements. Although Yeltsin occasionally criticized the actions of Putin (alongside his former rival, Mikhail Gorbachev), his remarks went relatively unnoticed in Russia. Suffering continuous health problems, Boris Yeltsin finally died of congestive heart failure on 23 April 2007. He was later buried at Novodevichy Cemetery.
Fun Fact #1: After leaving office, it is estimated by scholars that Yeltsin’s approval rating in Russia had reached a remarkably low, 2 percent.
Fun Fact #2: Yeltsin was known to suffer from an extreme dependence on alcohol, and was often seen drunk during his public appearances. In a visit to the United States in 1995, Yeltsin was even seen walking down Pennsylvania Avenue (Washington, D.C.) in only his underwear, drunk, and trying to hail a taxi.
Fun Fact #3: Despite supporting Gorbachev’s anti-Putin stance of the early 2000s, Gorbachev greatly resented Yeltsin and referred to him as “an immoral, cynical, power-hungry neo-Bolshevik.”
Fun Fact #4: According to Yeltsin’s former bodyguard, Alexander Korzhakov, Yeltsin attempted suicide on numerous occasions during his Presidency. In one such attempt, he claims that Yeltsin even tried to commit suicide by locking himself inside a sauna.
Fun Fact #5: Yeltsin’s favorite food was a Russian dish known as pelemeni (Siberian dumplings). According to his wife, Yeltsin also loved herring, potatoes, and sushi.
“You can build a throne with bayonets, but you can’t sit on it for long.”— Boris Yeltsin
Quotes by Yeltsin
Quote #1: “We don’t appreciate what we have until its gone. Freedom is like that. Its like air. When you have it, you don’t notice it.”
Quote #2: “We, Russia, are prepared to work with others. I am convinced that stability and security in Europe cannot be considered without taking Russia into account.”
Quote #3: “You can build a throne with bayonets, but you can’t sit on it for long.”
Quote #4: “A man must live like a great brilliant flame and burn as brightly as he can. In the end he burns out. But this is far better than a mean little flame.”
Quote #5: “There are numerous bugbears in the profession of a politician. First, ordinary life suffers. Second, there are many temptations to ruin you and those around you. And I suppose third, and this is rarely discussed, people at the top generally have no friends.”
Quote #6: “It is especially important to encourage unorthodox thinking when the situation is critical: At such moments every new word and fresh thought is more precious than gold. Indeed, people must not be deprived of the right to think their own thoughts.”
Quote #7: “While maintaining our nuclear potential at the proper level, we need to devote more attention to developing the entire range of means of information warfare.”
Quote #8: “Your commanders have ordered you to storm the White House and to arrest me. But I as the elected President of Russia give you the order to turn your tanks and not to fight against your own people.”
Quote #9: “You have no right to criticize Russia over Chechnya.”
Quote #10: “Europe has found itself confronted with fresh challenges – challenges of a global character, the nature of which is directly connected with changes in the international climate and the difficulties of seeking new models for cooperation.”
Quote #11: “There were no strategic mistakes that could affect Russia’s history and its further development. No, there were no such mistakes. Tactical errors were made in some less significant options, problems and so on. But, on the whole, Russia embarked on a correct path and it changed.”
Do you remember Yeltsin during the 1990s?
In closing, Boris Yeltsin remains one of the most interesting individuals to have arose from the Twentieth-Century. His life (and legacy) in both the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation had a tremendous impact on the country’s social and economic future. His impact on Russian politics continues to be seen today with the rise of Vladimir Putin since it was Boris Yeltsin who first appointed Putin to the position of Presidency nearly twenty-years ago. As archival information continues to be sorted out by scholars and historians, alike, it will be interesting to see what new information can be learned about Yeltsin in the years and decades ahead. Only time will tell what this new information will tell us about this fascinating individual.
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Boris Yeltsin,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. 19 April 2019. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Boris-Yeltsin (accessed 9 May 2019).
Wikipedia contributors, "Boris Yeltsin," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Boris_Yeltsin&oldid=896262776 (accessed May 9, 2019).
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© 2019 Larry Slawson