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Boris Yeltsin
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Boris Yeltsin

Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin (Бори́с Никола́евич Е́льцин) (bah-REES YELL-tsin) (b. February 1, 1931, Sverdlovsk [now Yekaterinburg], Russia, USSR), became the first president of Russia in 1990, and the first directly elected leader in the country's history.

Yeltsin was educated at Pushkin High School in Berezniki, Perm region and the Ural Polytechnic Institute in Sverdlovsk, majoring in construction.

At age 12 or 13 in school he had two fingers on his left hand blown off by a grenade.

Member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) from 1961 to July 1990, he began working in the Communist administration in 1969. In 1977 as party boss in Sverdlovsk, he ordered the destruction of the Ipatiev House where the last Tsar had been murdered. Yeltsin was also "Mayor" of Moscow (First Secretary of the CPSU Moscow City Committee) from December 24 1985 to 1987, when he was sacked for criticizing Gorbachev and the pace of reform.

In March 1989 he was elected to the Congress of People's Deputies and gained a seat on the Supreme Soviet. In May 1990 he was appointed speaker of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR, in June the RSFSR declared independence and in July Yeltsin left the CPSU. In the democratic presidential elections for Russia on June 12, 1991 Yeltsin won 57 per cent of the popular vote and he took office on July 10.

On August 18 1991 a coup against Gorbachev (and Yeltsin) was started by Communists headed by Kryuchkov. Gorbachev was held in the Crimea while Yeltsin raced to the White House of Russia in Moscow to defy the coup. The White House was surrounded by troops but in the face of mass popular demonstrations the troops defected, Yeltsin making a memorable speech from the turret of a tank. By August 21 most of the coup leaders had fled Moscow and Gorbachev was 'rescued' from the Crimea and returned to Moscow. Yeltsin was hailed around the world as a hero for saving the Soviet Union from the resumption of tyranny and the world from the renewal of the Cold War.

In early December 1991, Ukraine voted for independence from the Soviet Union. A week later the Presidents of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus created the Commonwealth of Independent States. On December 24, Russia took the USSR's seat in the United Nations. The next day, President Gorbachev resigned and the USSR ceased to exist.

On August 9, 1999 Yeltsin fired his Prime Minister, Sergei Stepashin, and for the fourth time, fired his entire cabinet.

Yeltsin continued as President of Russia until December 31, 1999, but the events of 1991 proved to be something of a high-water mark for him historically and personally. He resigned on December 31 1999, naming Vladimir Putin as Acting President until new elections were held on March 26 2000.

An alcoholic, Yeltsin's personal and health problems received a lot of attention in the global press. As the years went on, he was seen as an increasingly unstable leader, and not the inspiring figure he once was. The possibility that he might die in office was often discussed.

President of Russia

Followed by:
Vladimir Putin

Preceded by:
Ivan Silayev
Prime Minister of Russia (acting) Succeeded by:
Yegor Gaidar