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World - Europe

Russian President Boris Yeltsin resigning

December 31, 1999
Web posted at: 5:44 a.m. EST (1044 GMT)

Yeltsin resigned on national television Friday and announced that he had turned over his powers to Prime Minister Putin  

In this story:

Took on Moscow corruption, then Gorbachev

Gorbachev quit Communists, elected president

Unpopular incumbent defies the odds

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



MOSCOW (CNN) -- Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin announced on national television Friday that he had resigned and presidential elections will be held within 90 days to replace him.

The announcement caught Russia by surprise, and is likely to launch the country into yet another political crisis as parties scramble for unexpected presidential elections.

Looking pale and grim in a speech on national television, Yeltsin, 68, said he had turned over his powers to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, his preference to succeed him as president.

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Russia's future

 

The Communist party maverick who swept into power as a post-Soviet reformer, had suffered from serious respiratory and heart ailments for much of his presidency. Widespread poverty and dissatisfaction reduced Yeltsin's popularity in recent years, but Russians hailed him as a hero when the Soviet Union crumbled in 1991.

Despite declining health, Yeltsin occasionally flashed the same iron resolve that squelched an attempted coup during the Soviet twilight, if only to rise from his sickbed to fire yet another Cabinet minister. Or in the case of Chechnya, order another war against separatists. Unlike a disastrous war earlier this decade in the breakaway Republic, Yeltsin's latest campaign, still ongoing, enjoys broad support among Russians, perhaps his final popular act as president.

Took on Moscow corruption, then Gorbachev

Born in Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg) in 1931, Yeltsin worked on various construction projects from 1955 to 1968. He joined the Communist Party in 1961 during former Premier Nikita Khrushchev's anti-Stalinist reforms. In 1976, Yeltsin became first chairman of the Sverdlosk party committee. In that capacity, he met Mikhail Gorbachev, who held the same position in Stavropol. When Gorbachev took power in 1985, he chose Yeltsin to reform the corrupt Moscow party hierarchy. In 1986, Gorbachev made Yeltsin a non-voting member of the Politburo.

Yeltsin, widely hailed as an effective reformer, soon became dissatisfied with the pace of perestroika, or restructuring. After challenging party conservatives and even Gorbachev himself, Yeltsin resigned from the party leadership in 1987 and from the Politburo in 1988. Demoted to a deputy construction minister, Yeltsin remained popular with the people of Moscow. Demonstrations, a new phenomenon in the U.S.S.R., erupted in support of Yeltsin. When Gorbachev introduced contested elections for the new Congress of People's Deputies in 1989, Yeltsin won a landslide victory. He was later elected president of the Russian parliament over Gorbachev's objections.

Quit Communists, elected president

In July 1990, Yeltsin quit the Communist Party. The following year, he was elected president of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic, the first popularly elected leader in Russian history. Yeltsin's place in history was assured during the August 1991 coup by communist hard-liners.

With Gorbachev detained at his country house, Yeltsin became the leader of the resistance to the coup, rallying his followers from atop an armored car and demanding Gorbachev's return. When the coup collapsed after a few days, Gorbachev did return to Moscow -- but the center of power had shifted to Yeltsin. Yeltsin was negotiating with the leaders of Ukraine and Belarus for an arrangement to replace the Soviet Union. The Commonwealth of Independent States was established on December 8, 1991. Two weeks later, Gorbachev resigned as president of a Soviet Union that had effectively ceased to exist.

Unpopular incumbent defied the odds

Faced with a stagnating economy, a hostile legislature, an attempted coup and a military debacle in Chechnya, Yeltsin's prospects seemed dim in the 1996 elections. But Yeltsin staged another comeback, defeating communist challenger Gennady Zyuganov in a July runoff. In November 1996, Yeltsin underwent quadruple heart bypass surgery and was confined to the hospital for months; health problems become a concern throughout his presidency.

Yeltsin became increasingly unpopular in his second term, as economic progress remained elusive and rumors of ill health became more pervasive. He appeared in public more sporadically, replacing government ministers as crises arose. But Yeltsin resisted calls to step down, fearing that no other reformer was ready to replace him.



RELATED STORIES:
Yeltsin's ailments treated with milk and honey
November 26, 1999
Yeltsin released from hospital after two-day stay
October 11, 1999
Yeltsin says feels fine, heart 'working like clock'
August 16, 1999

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