For 8 years, between 1991 and 1999, Mr. Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin was the president of the Russian Federation, a debatable figure who ruled Russia in a time of turmoil and instability. Most of the people now praise Yeltsin for his ability to bring democracy and open market economy to the former socialist country. However, things do not look so well for Russia’s former president if we start to dig just a bit dipper in the political changes and economic situation of the Russian Federation during the 90s.

At the end of 1989, the communist block former known as USSR, could no longer be held together and there were serious doubts about the efficiency of the centralized planned economy. Mikhail Gorbachev’s plan to save the economy failed and there was a clear sign that someone had to step up and put forward some radical changes, at least this was the feeling most of the world had back then. In June 1991, Boris Yeltsin was the first democratically elected president of the Russian republic, defeating Gorbachev’s preferred candidate, Vladimir Kryuchkov. However, his popularity soured after he defeated the coup staged by hard line communists in august 1991, it is at this time that he became a well-known and respected figure throughout not only his country but also the Western World. By December 1991, USSR was history and from the former soviet block, Russia emerged as the only country to carry on its legacy. However, Russia faced a hard and treacherous road ahead, and so did Yeltsin as its president.

THE ECONOMY

At the beginning of 1992, Russia was still relaying on a heavily and inefficient industrialized economy, filled with problems and leaks but against all odds, still working. The decision to move towards a free market economy was not an easy one, but never the less the only viable option. However, the promised benefits of democracy and economic prosperity that Western political and economic advisers so eagerly preached failed to materialize. As Russia moved to capitalism, opening its financial and commercial markets, privatizing everything quickly and trying to maintain a high exchange rate under the close supervision of IMF, things started to go terribly wrong. It is less important what and how this happened, but rather where it all ended.

By comparison with 1989, in 1998:

– Russia’s output was down by almost a half
– Poverty rocketed from 2% to 40%
– Life expectancy in 1989 was 64.2 for males and 74.5 for females in 1994 it went down to 57.6 for males and 71.2 for females but by 1998 most of it recovered 61.3/72.9 (in 2001 it was 58.6 and 72.1)
– Inequality doubled
– Much of the countries industry was sold for miserable prices to certain individuals who had good relations with the government and the president

THE FINANCES

As oligarchs struggled to get the money obtained from corruption and “privatization” out of the country, the exchange rate plummeted. The IMF intervene with a bailout package ($20 billion) which further worsen the crises (the exchange rate was abnormally high and prevented exports while encouraging imports) while at the same time rising a mountain of foreign debt. Eventually the Russia’s currency, the rouble, collapsed, signalling a worsening financial and economic crises.

Politics and presidential problems

The extent of reforms in the realm of democracy and political freedoms is debatable. Although at the beginning of the 1990s many independent media companies were established, most of them are now either closed or under state control. The decision-making is still centralized around the president of the Federation whom usually names his successor. In international matters, the war in Chechnya must be remembered (1994-1996 and 1999). Although Russia did not prove to be very successful at first, it still managed to keep the region under control through blood and tears.

Above this comes Yeltsin’s alcoholism, which proved to be more than just disturbing, with usual public embarrassments and bad decision making.

Yet not all is that bad

Yeltsin did manage to bring Russia closer to the West, to change the idea of an evil empire into one of a friendly bear. When he used tanks against the hard-line communists back in 1991, he proved to the world and to his own people that Russia was determined to move away from its socialist past. He chose a good successor for him, the incumbent president, Vladimir Putin.
As any leader, he has done good and bad things. He was an important figure not so much through his personality and achievements but more through the fact that he ruled Russia in one of its most difficult times. Few know how hard is to run a country, especially one like Russia.

May he rest in peace!

Note.
I cannot 100% guarantee the accuracy of this information, but I am sure I mostly got it right.

Yeltsin

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