Yeltsin and the New Russian Republic: History and Timeline

Yeltsin and the New Russian Republic: History and Timeline
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  • 0:03 Yeltsin and the New Russia
  • 0:47 Fall of Soviet Union
  • 2:37 Yeltsin's Early Career
  • 3:49 Yeltsin As President
  • 6:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the fall of the Soviet Union and the reemergence of Russia and the subsequent presidency of Russia's first president, Boris Yeltsin.

Yeltsin and the New Russia

Transitioning from childhood to adulthood can be hard. Entire worlds are opened up which you never knew existed before, whether it's having to pay rent and bills, work a regular job, or even something as mundane as cooking for yourself. Some are more prepared for that transition than others; by the time some kids reach their 18th birthday, they have already had jobs for years or done their own laundry and cooking.

In this way, when Russia was reborn from the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, it was more like a coddled newborn than any other Eastern European nation. Nearly 70 years of secretive political leadership and communist economics meant the country was totally unprepared for engagement in the wider world - economically and politically.

Fall of Soviet Union

Indeed, the Soviet Union had existed since Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks had finally consolidated power in Russia in the early 1920s. Over the following decades, Lenin's successors, from Joseph Stalin to Leonid Brezhnev, had implemented numerous communist reforms, detaining and often exiling capitalists, while collectivizing all industry, agriculture, and overall economic output under government control. For years, the Soviet Union exerted control over Eastern Europe and enforced communism in its regions of influence. The Soviet Union excelled for a while, creating an industrial-military complex rivaled only by the United States and launching the first satellite, Sputnik, into space as a show of its technological superiority.

After several decades, however, the Soviet economy began to fail. The central control of the communist command economy created widespread inefficiencies, and the Soviet government was too stilted and hierarchical to properly react to the crisis. In 1985, new premier Mikhail Gorbachev attempted to remedy these problems through introducing a modicum of economic openness and political freedom, policies named perestroika and glasnost, respectively.

Though these measures were intended to save the Soviet Union, in reality they only hastened its decline, as the increased political openness allowed for greater protests against communism throughout the Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe. In 1989 and into the early 1990s, Eastern European states responded to their populations' demonstrations through ending communism and holding free elections. With most of Eastern Europe freeing themselves of Soviet control and smaller states in the Soviet peripheries clamoring for independence, Gorbachev announced the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the end of communism in Russia.

Yeltsin's Early Career

The reins of the Russian government were immediately handed over to Boris Yeltsin, a politician who had grown popular with the Russian people. This is perhaps surprising since Yeltsin was a career politician of the Soviet era, a man who had joined the Communist Party in 1961 and risen through the communist ranks until becoming Gorbachev's right-hand man in the 1980s. But Yeltsin was a reformer, so much so that when he felt Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika reform packages were not moving quickly enough, he quit the party in early 1990. The following year, in Russia's first democratic elections ever, he was elected president of Russia in June 1991.

When a coup by communist hardliners attempted to oust Gorbachev and reinstall the draconian communism of Russia's Soviet past, Yeltsin was seen among the crowd of people that surrounded the Russian government building, famously climbing upon a tank to demand Gorbachev's release. After the coup ended, Yeltsin's antics and his reputation as a reformer made him a folk hero in Russia. His election as president in early 1991 and his popularity made his transition to Russian premier run smoothly when Gorbachev dissolved the Soviet Union in December.

Yeltsin as President

As President, Yeltsin implemented a series of drastic reforms in order to introduce market economies and democratic institutions to Russia. The transition was not easy; Russia's nearly century-long Soviet experiment meant all Russians had ever known was intense state control of resources, companies, and industries. The massive privatization project Yeltsin implemented, 'shock therapy,' as Yeltsin termed it, sold off entire sectors of the Russian economy to the highest bidders. Often, these men were Yeltsin's political cronies and former friends in the Soviet government.

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