often turned an eager ear to those who promised him what he wanted
to hear. He blindly put his faith in the medicinal effects of “shock
therapy” and the magic powers of the market. He believed that it was
possible in a few days and with a small military force to establish
“constitutional order” in Chechnya. He believed that Chubais’s
vouchers would be enough to create overnight effective private
ownership. These examples of the economic, political, and military
illusions of Yeltsin could be easily multiplied.
Yeltsin was not unique in his wishful thinking. The last Russian
tsar, Nicholas II, dreamed of a small victorious war but what he got
instead was a series of humiliating defeats at the hands of the
Japanese and the revolution of 1905. Lenin dreamed of a world
socialist revolution, which the Russian proletariat would trigger
and which the rest of Europe would support. Even Stalin’s
“revolution from above,” which plunged the country into the worst
period of mass terror in its history, was an attempt at one stroke
to resolve problems that had remained unsolved for decades.
dream of quickly catching up and overtaking the United States and
Gorbachev’s ill-conceived campaigns of the perestroika period
are part of the same tradition. In short, the reform zeal based on
false expectations was not unique to Yeltsin. However, he was the
only Russian leader in the twentieth century to ask the Russian
people for forgiveness.