Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin
Birthplace: Yekaterinburg (then Sverdlovsk), Russia
The first popularly elected leader in Russian history began his career inauspiciously, serving in Sverdlovsk construction from 1955 until 1968. Yeltsin began working full-time for the Communist Party in 1968, was appointed secretary of Sverdlovsk in 1976, and received induction into the Central Committee in 1981. He rose to the position of Moscow party chief in 1985, and joined the Politburo in 1986. Dedicated to reform, Yeltsin's sharp critique of conservatives and his claims that Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika policies were insufficient forced him to resign and assume the trivial post of Deputy Minister for Construction.
His hard-hitting embrace of radical reform maintained populist support, and voters secured Yeltsin on a seat in the Soviet parliament (the Congress of U.S.S.R. People's Deputies) in 1989. He won a 1990 election into Russian presidency and quit the Communist Party. Yeltsin successfully led opposition to the August 1991 anti-Gorbachev coup and emerged with even more grassroots support. President Gorbachev's December resignation sealed the U.S.S.R.'s dissolution and Yeltsin assumed his role as the first popularly elected leader in Russian history.
“It is especially important to encourage unorthodox thinking when the situation is critical,” spoke Yeltsin, and this flexible attitude contributed to his ability to deal with Russia's transformation to open economy, private enterprise and democratic, multiparty rule.
Clashes with conservative parliament led Yeltsin to suppress it in September 1993, and his proposed Constitution was ratified in December 1993. Yeltsin's popularity continued unabated until the secession war with Chechnya, which, combined with anti-reform opponents slowly being elected into office, eroded Yeltsin's popularity. During this time he improved relations with Western powers, although widespread economic difficulties further flagged the president. Yeltsin suffered a heart attack in June of 1996. In a characteristic comeback, he managed to win re-election to the Russian presidency in July. Bypassing obsolescence yet again, Yeltsin recovered and went on to overhaul his cabinet by the spring of 1997.
The global economic epidemic spread to Russia when its currency began to plummet in Nov. 1997, finally collapsing the following year. In Aug. 1998, the ruble was devalued and by Aug. 25 had taken its worst fall in four years. In a futile attempt to stem the tide, President Boris Yeltsin dismissed his entire government twice over the course of 1998, and by the end of the year was facing an impeachment vote.