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Boris Yeltsin

In 1985 Boris Yeltsin was appointed head of the Moscow City Party Committee. He alienated party conservatives via his attempts to eradicate corruption and was dismissed in 1987.

He was elected to the Russian Federal Supreme Soviet and in March 1990 became its chairman. From this he went on in June 1991 to be the first President of the Russian SSR elected by popular vote, promising sweeping reforms.

In August 1991 he successfully resisted a coup by communist hardliners and was able to assume effective leadership of his country.

Gorbachev‘s resignation and the disintegration of the Soviet Union followed in December.

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As President of independent Russia, Yeltsin had to grapple with economic collapse and internal tensions between the republics of the Federation. Yegor Gaidar, an economic reformer, was his acting Deputy Prime Minister from 1992 until 1994.

In 1992 Yeltsin set up a Presidential Security Council, with himself as chairman and the conservative Yuri Skokov as secretary, with powers to override all government ministry decrees.

By late 1992 the Russian state budget deficit had soared, partly because Yeltsin’s reformist government had bowed to conservative pressures to extend vast credits to unprofitable state enterprises.

The President resorted increasingly to government by decree, which seemed to carry little authority.

Troops loyal to Yeltsin’s government suppressed an attempted coup by communists in 1993, while a referendum held later the same year endorsed Yeltsin’s economic and social reforms.

Yeltsin’s handling of regional crises (notably the revolt in the Caucasian republic of Chechnya in 1994-5) attracted widespread criticism, with his presidency being regarded as a hostage to the Russian military.

Yeltsin suffered heart attacks in 1995, leading to speculation about his position. His authority was further undermined by the Communist Party’s victory in parliamentary elections in 1995.

In 1996 Yeltsin was re-elected as President; he underwent a coronary bypass operation later that year amidst continuing speculation about his health.