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Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin

the first popularly elected President of Russia

Boris Yeltsin

Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin was born in Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg) on February 1, 1931. Soon after his birth, his parents moved the family to Kazan. In 1934, his father was convicted of anti-Soviet agitation and sentenced to three years in a labor camp, after which he moved the family to Berezniki. After graduating from Pushkin High School in Berezniki, Boris attended Ural Polytechnic Institute in Sverdlovsk. While in college he played pro volleyball for Sverdlovsk in the USSR first division. He graduated from the institute in 1955 with a major in construction.

Yeltsin worked on various construction projects from 1955 to 1968. In his first year at work, he mastered twelve construction skills. By 1963 he had become chief of a housing construction integrated plant, where he had thousands of people under his supervision.

Early Communist Party Career

Yeltsin joined the Communist Party in 1961, during Nikita Khrushchev's anti-Stalinist reforms. His political career began in 1969, when he became Chief of the Construction Department of Sverdlovsk Region Committee of the CPSU. In 1976 he was elected Secretary, then First Secretary, of Sverdlovsk Region Committee of the CPSU. It was while serving in this capacity that he first met Mikhail Gorbachev, who held the same position in Stavropol.

When Gorbachev became General Secretary of the Communist Party in 1985, he brought Yeltsin to Moscow as Vice-Chairman of the Construction Department, then as Secretary on Construction Issues of the Central Committee of the CPSU. On December 24, 1985, Yeltsin was elected First Secretary of Moscow City Committee of the CPSU, which made him a non-voting member of the Politburo.

Yeltsin, like many of his countrymen, soon became dissatisfied with the pace of perestroika (restructuring) and began challenging the Communist Party leadership, including Gorbachev. In 1987 he was removed from the Moscow City Committee and demoted to First Vice Chairman of the State Committee on Construction. He resigned from the Politburo in 1988.

Leader of the Reform Movement

Yeltsin had become quite popular with the people of Moscow during his years in Party service, and that popularity continued even after his demotion. In 1989, the first multi-candidate parliamentary elections in the history of the USSR were held, and Yeltsin was elected by landslide to the newly-formed Congress of People's Deputies. He subsequently received a seat in the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, where he held the position of Chairman of the Committee on Construction. He also became a co-leader of the Inter-Regional Group of deputies, which stood up for human rights and democratic reforms.

In May, 1990, Yeltsin was elected Speaker of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic. By then he had become well-known for his harsh criticism of Gorbachev and other Communist hardliners. He believed that Gorbachev needed to speed up the pace of reforms and get tough on the conservatives, and that more power had to be transferred from Moscow to the republics of the USSR. On June 12, 1990, the Congress of People's Deputies adopted the Declaration of Sovereignty of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic. Yeltsin quit the Communist Party in July, and began negotiating "peace terms" with Gorbachev in August. Negotiated reforms never materialized, and in February, 1991, Yeltsin publicly called for Gorbachev's resignation.

President of Russia

In the first democratic presidential elections in Russia held on June 12, 1991, Yeltsin captured more than 57% of the vote to defeat Nikolai Ryzhkov, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and three other candidates. He was inaugurated as the first elected President of Russia on July 10, 1991.

Coup Attempt

On August 18, 1991, Gorbachev was detained at his summer residence in Crimea on orders of Communist coup plotters. The next day they announced the takeover of Gorbachev's presidential powers by USSR Vice-President Gennady Yanayev. Upon hearing of the coup attempt, Yeltsin rushed from his Arkhangelskoye residence to his presidential residence in Moscow. Although the presidential residence was surrounded by troops loyal to the coup plotters, thousands of unarmed Moscow citizens came to defend Yeltsin. Popular resistance, swift action by Yeltsin, and conflict within the group which had plotted the coup led to the coup's collapse and to the release of Gorbachev. Three of Yeltsin's supporters died during the standoff at his presidential residence. Most of the coup organizers were arrested and accused of treason. Yeltsin banned the Communist Party in Russia and ordered the confiscation of its property.

Collapse of the Soviet Union

On December 1, 1991, Ukraine held a referendum, and its citizens voted for independence from the Soviet Union. A week later, the presidents of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus signed a treaty creating the Commonwealth of Independent States. On December 24, Russia took over the Soviet Union's seat in the United Nations. The next day, Gorbachev resigned as president of the Soviet Union.

Economic Troubles

Yeltsin instituted one of the most ambitious economic reform programs in Russian history. The program called for liberalization of prices, legalization of private business and private ownership of land, introduction of free trade and commercial banking, massive privatization of state-run enterprises, and radical cuts in military spending. The program was soon in jeopardy, however. as too many reforms at one time led to inflation, which in turn devalued the savings and wages of most Russians. Domestic production nose-dived, and the first stage of Yeltsin's reforms became widely known as "shock without therapy."

Impeachment Attempt

The Congress of People's Deputies attempted to impeach Yeltsin on March 26, 1993. His opponents gathered more than 600 votes, but fell 72 votes short of impeachment. In a referendum held on April 25, 1993, 58.5% of the voters expressed their confidence in Yeltsin, and 52.8% also supported his economic policy.

Second Coup Attempt

In violation of the Constitution, Yeltsin disbanded the Supreme Soviet and Congress of People's Deputies by decree on September 21, 1993, and set December 12 as the date for new parliamentary elections. In response, Yeltsin's parliamentary opponents proclaimed his Vice-President, General Alexander Rutskoi, President. On October 3, armed supporters of Rutskoi surrounded and seized the presidential residence in Moscow, seized the office of Moscow's Mayor, and attacked the Ostankino television station. Twenty-three people died in the attacks. On October 4, troops loyal to Yeltsin entered Moscow. The presidential residence was surrounded, shelled from tanks, and set on fire. More than 100 people died. The rebels surrendered, and the coup leaders were arrested.

On December 12, 1993, Russians voted for a new Parliament (Duma) and on a referendum for a new Constitution. The Constitution, which gave significantly more power to the President, passed easily, but reformers captured barely one-third of the new Parliament. In one of its first acts, the Duma granted amnesty to leaders of the coups of 1991 and 1993.


On December 11, 1994, Yeltsin sent Russian troops into Chechnya in an attempt to crush the three-year-old Chechyan independence bid. By Spring, 1995, Russian troops had seized Grozny, the capital. Thousands of Chechnyan civilians were killed, and hundreds of thousands more became refugees. Many Russian citizens condemned the war, and Yeltsin's popularity hit all-time lows.

Health Problems

In 1995, Yeltsin suffered two heart attacks.


Despite health problems and low popularity ratings, Yeltsin announced on February 15, 1996, that he would seek a second term as President of Russia. He finished first in the June 16 first round of the elections with about 35% of the vote. On July 3, he defeated Communist challenger Gennady Zyuganov in a run-off election and retained his position as President.


In November, 1996, Yeltsin underwent quadruple heart bypass surgery, which left him weak. Eventually, continuing economic and other domestic problems began taking an even greater toll on his health, and on December 31, 1999 he announced that he was resigning as President and that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin would be assuming the office.

Boris Yeltsin died of heart failure on April 23, 2007.

His Family

Boris Yeltsin married Naina Iosifovna Girina in 1956. The couple had two daughters -- Yelena (1957-) and Tatiana (1959-).

See Alsp

Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev
Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev

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The Robinson Library >> Soviet Union, 1918-1991

This page was last updated on February 01, 2019.