Boris Yeltsin 1931-2007

One section of the recent superb Adam Curtis three-part documentary, The Trap, dealt with how Boris Yeltsin, the first elected president of the Russian Federation, was instrumental, wittingly or otherwise, in the formation of a super-rich elite – the oligarchs – and, despite initial promises, the return of an autocratic style of government. The death of Boris Yeltsin today, obituary here, followed the weekend protests against current President Vladimir Putin – the Big G’s Newsblog tackles the coverage of those anti-Putin demonstrations in Moscow. It may be tempting now to only remember the drunken buffoon, and there are some of the more infamous Yeltsin public appearances here, but as David Hearst points out at CiF, history will not be kind to Yeltsin.

If you want find a reason for the popularity of Vladimir Putin, you should look no further than Boris Yeltsin, who died today. All the seeds of today’s Russia – the return to authoritarianism, a controlled media, elections which are a foregone conclusion, the past decade of war in Chechnya, the loss of Russia’s standing in its near-abroad and the attempt to impose its will – were laid in the short and breathless period when anything seemed possible, but where democratic dreams turned to dust.

  • Rhodey

    yeltsin was the balls

  • Pete Baker

    Concise, Rhodey, but not exactly insightful.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Gorbachev is one of my heroes. Unfortunately for him he made a few grave miscalculations. While I think he correctly worked out that conservative elements in the CPSU would not be able to muster the support to overthrow him decisively, he underestimated their willingness to give it a shot, and crippled himself in the process.

    Yeltsin was a corrupt dirty rat, he gets far too much credit for dropping Russia into a hole it still hasn’t managed to climb out of. The protests against Putin should be seen in the same context as the anti-globalization protests that we see at WTO, IMF or G7 summits etc. Putin’s no choirboy, but he has steadily stabilized the country and improved the lives of millions of ordinary Russians.

  • Pete Baker

    I agree with you on Gorbachev, Comrade.. and on Yeltsin.

    Some of the most distorting comments today have come from Conservatives praising Yeltsin for ‘standing up to the military and rescuing Gorbachev’.. Nonsense – it was opportunistic grandstanding with an eye to succeeding him.

    But I disagree with you on Putin – no surprise there. He seized the same opportunity to replace Yeltsin, with Yeltsin’s new consolidation of power in the presidency already in place, as Yeltsin seized to replace Gorbachev.

  • SuperSoupy

    Pete,

    Putin did not seize an opportunity to replace Yeltsin. Yeltsin appointed him as acting PM when he sacked Stepashin and at the same time endorsed him as his future successor, he was then appointed acting Premier after Yeltsin’s resignation before taking the role proper in the elections.

    Yeltsin gifted him the position it was not seized from him.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Some of the most distorting comments today have come from Conservatives praising Yeltsin for ‘standing up to the military and rescuing Gorbachev’.. Nonsense – it was opportunistic grandstanding with an eye to succeeding him.

    Completely agree there. Yeltsin saw a chink in Gorby’s armour, and drove the spike in during his time of weakness. Once his position was assured he put his feet up while his administration blundered and lurched drunkenly about.

    But I disagree with you on Putin – no surprise there. He seized the same opportunity to replace Yeltsin, with Yeltsin’s new consolidation of power in the presidency already in place, as Yeltsin seized to replace Gorbachev.

    I’m only looking at Putin’s results, not the circumstances under which he came to power, and I think that is what needs to be given consideration. There are no politicians on the entire planet who get into power reluctantly.

  • Garibaldy

    A corrupt, anti-democratic so and so who destroyed the lives of millions by giving away state assets, and who mounted a coup of his very own with the full support of the west in 1993. Think I might crack open a bottle of stoli.

  • Pete Baker

    SS

    “Putin did not seize an opportunity to replace Yeltsin.”

    See my comparison to Yeltsin’s move for power.. and as Comrade Stalin accurately pointed out, “There are no politicians on the entire planet who get into power reluctantly.”

    Comrade

    I suspect we’re going to disagree significantly on “Putin’s results.”

  • John East Belfast

    Comrade Stalin

    “I’m only looking at Putin’s results, not the circumstances under which he came to power, and I think that is what needs to be given consideration.”

    Without invoking Godwin’s law here I dont think you need me to point out to you that many an autocrat and dictator has come to power and marginally improved the ‘lot’ of the average citisen while at the same time destroying anything of true value in a free and civilised society ?

    Surely the results we should be applauding are free speech, freedom of the press, reduction of state and corporate corruption, freedom to criticise those who govern you without being described as a dissident and having to flee your home and possibly become a victim of state murder …….

  • SuperSoupy

    Pete,

    I’m disagreeing with your assessment that power was ‘seized’ from Yeltsin. Yeltsin declared Putin his successor and promoted him from nowhere to acting PM (after going through 4 cabinets), potential Premier and then acting Premier after his resignation (which for some was surprising despite the various attempts at impeachment).

    Yeltsin didn’t have power ‘seized’ from him; he gave it away through incompetency.

    Putin took that chance, gifted and endorsed by Yeltsin, then completely abused it.

  • Pete Baker

    Yeah, SS, I heard you the first time.

    The key fact you miss is that I didn’t say that either Gorbachev or Yeltsin had power seized from them.

  • Obscure Reference

    My favorite story about Yeltsin is the the one of how the USSR was formally dissolved. Yeltsin, then President of Russia, and the other boyos who honchoed up the assorted other Republics got together, broke out the vodka and got completely gee-eyed, Yeltsin was so drunk that his chair fell backwards depositing him insensible on the floor. At the end of their debauch the USSR was no more, leaving Gorbachev like a spare prick at a wedding.

    A better example of the messy humanness of history in motion I’ve yet to find. It’s always like that, no man is a hero to his valet, as another vicious, mass-murdering bastard who ended up a hero once said.

    Yeltsin’s motives for standing on the tank should rightly be impugned. But he did stand.

  • SuperSoupy

    “had power seized from them”

    Yeltsin didn’t have power seized from him, he resigned after years of failure. Putin took over after being appointed to increasingly powerful acting positions which were endorsed in Presidential elections.

    ‘Seizing’ didn’t occur. Democracy for good or bad did.

    What has happened since is another matter.

  • Pete Baker

    SS

    Likewise,

    I suspect we’re going to disagree significantly on “Putin’s methods.”

  • Putin is, whether you like it or not, extremely popular with ordinary Russians. Perhaps it is all on the back of high energy prices but most ordinary Russians have never had it so good.

  • Ziznivy

    I’d generally agree with CS’s assessment of Yeltsin. He is certainly not regarded with much fondness in Russia. He is seen as the man who led the country into economic chaos and who allowed a small group of businessmen to accumulate the vast majority of the nation’s wealth for themselves. He did this largely for selfish means; to gain financial backing for his political campaigns he allowed them to strip state assets for next to nothing. Then there was the chaos of “shock therapy” when he and Gaidar oversaw a privatisation that was supposed to result in ownership of the oil and gas giants accruing to the people, but in actual fact was organised in such a way that only a small band of oligarchs benefited.

    Yeltsin wilfully dismembered the Union for his own political gain, undermined a much more profound reformer in Gorbachev, actually did more to imperil the route to representative democracy than he did to enable it, created an unstable and economically disastrous region in Central Asia (the effects of which can be felt in international affairs to this day), enriched his own family through corrupt practices and waged war in Chechnya in such a catastrophic fashion that Russian forces had to back down in humiliation.

    Ironically, for all the West’s distrust of him, Putin is seen, by the majority of Russian people, as the man who brought economic stability and re-established Russia as an international power. If anyone will be depicted in statues it will be him. Retrospectively, when Russia has time to come to terms with her history, Gorbachev will be accorded more respect than either.

    I won’t be raising a glass to Mr Yeltsin, unless it is to his drunkenness and dancing.

  • cladycowboy

    Does it matter how he seized power? Its what he did with it that we should care about.

    He oversaw the greatest heist of wealth ever. Huge state assets stolen for pennies. The average Russian’s wealth more than halved whilst a few of the gangsters, spurred on by the West, or rather the Financial kingpins in our Stockmarkets under the cloak of legitimacy that the IMF and World Bank affords them.

    I’d like to think the vodka was a way to blot out the guilt at the realisation he let a few foreigners and domestic criminals rape an entire Nation.

    He wasn’t the first and he won’t be the last but sure its all ok, the house prices are still going up…

  • mickhall

    Yeltsin was a corrupt dirty rat,

    But oh how Western governments and big business loved him and his corrupt entourage, as some ‘man in the Russian street’. said on Yeltsin death, whilst he was in a drunken stupor, gangsters and Western capitalists stole the nations assets. We should also not overlook the fact that many of these thieves, waste their ill gotten gains on playthings like Chelsea football club, whilst those who fought and lived through the Great Patriot War live in penury. I am sure I am not the only one to think it is wrong that these rich crooks can come to the UK and be welcomed by PM and captains of industry, whilst hard working peasants looking to build a better life for themselves and their families, have to jump through hoops to get the same opportunity to stay.

    The only comfort I get is that the Russia’s economically rich of today, are making the same mistakes that their predecessors did prior to 1917, and with a bit of luck they will pay the same price, and the world will see the back of them until they next forget the lessons of history.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Without invoking Godwin’s law here I dont think you need me to point out to you that many an autocrat and dictator has come to power and marginally improved the ‘lot’ of the average citisen while at the same time destroying anything of true value in a free and civilised society ?

    I am not sure what you are talking about with this one, John. Russia (and the USSR) was not a free and civilized society compared with what many of us would be used to. You could argue that Yeltsin sold off all the welfare and power in the state into a handful of corrupt and self-serving rats, but then the welfare and power in Russia has been in the hands of corrupt and self serving rats since time immemorial.

    Surely the results we should be applauding are free speech, freedom of the press, reduction of state and corporate corruption, freedom to criticise those who govern you without being described as a dissident and having to flee your home and possibly become a victim of state murder …….

    There’s a bit of pot and kettle going on here. We theoretically enjoy all of those in the West, but in practice the reality is slightly different depending on who you are.

    Nobody can defend the bad stuff that Putin has had a hand in, especially around Chechnya and so on, and all of that extremely murky stuff to do with journalists being harrassed and assassinated (although I’m recalling that the media industry in Russia swung right behind Yeltsin and Putin during the elections that have occurred to date, strongly resisting Gorbachev and other left-wing alternatives). What you can arguably do is point out that life is somewhat better for Russians than it has been at any other point in history. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and Russia isn’t going to turn into a Jeffersonian republic overnight. Look how long it took the UK to become a democracy.

    I often wonder how well the UK and USA would do in terms of democracy if they didn’t have a military that could deploy overseas to distract their electorate.

  • Comrade Stalin

    The only comfort I get is that the Russia’s economically rich of today, are making the same mistakes that their predecessors did prior to 1917, and with a bit of luck they will pay the same price, and the world will see the back of them until they next forget the lessons of history.

    Mick, I do respect your contributions, but I think you can stop flying the Red Flag now. The Berlin Wall fell nearly twenty years ago and the tyranny of communism has been utterly destroyed. Marxism is dead and buried, and it isn’t coming back.

    Yeltsin’s corrupt wallowing filth in all of its flabby grotesqueness was nothing compared to the horrors inflicted by the Communists. You want to know how war heroes are treated, look at what the communists did to people who struggled under German occupation and were subsequently relieved by the Red Army who raped and pillaged all round them, and sent whoever was left to the gulags as traitors who failed to rise up against the fascists. The man who helped architect the Soviet victory, Georgy Zhukov, narrowly missed death except for the timing of Stalin’s death.