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Drift and Chaos of the Second Term

 

One of the main reasons for Yeltsin’s political longevity was that it was not clear who could replace him. During the perestroika period, against the Communist hardliners there had been Gorbachev and the reform Communists; against Gorbachev there had been Yeltsin and the democrats; but against Yeltsin there were various extremist forces that could spell trouble for Russia. In this sense, he became irreplaceable.  

 
Boris Yeltsin, dancing

However flawed Yeltsin might be, the alternatives appeared worse. This was a verdict reiterated by the voters in June—July 1996: “Whatever we say of Yeltsin, even in his condition [having suffered his second heart attack], he is still the only guarantor of democracy and the irreversibility of economic reform.” There is no doubt that, for most Russians, he was the only man they could see as their president at the time. Many were against a Communist taking the top job and feared the new uncertainty this could bring to their lives. As a result, Yeltsin’s era was prolonged by three and a half years.

To many, Yeltsin’s second presidential term, marked by prolonged spells of passivity and ill health on his part, appears to have been in many respects a period of wasted opportunities for Russia. Indeed, for nearly the entire second half of 1996 Yeltsin devoted very little time to performing the duties of office. A heart attack suffered between the first and second rounds of the presidential election in the summer required that he undergo heart bypass surgery, which was performed in November 1996. Preparation for the surgery and recuperation from it, followed by a severe bout of pneumonia, left him unable to make all but the most pressing decisions for well over half a year.

He resumed a more normal schedule only in the spring of 1997, but even then Yeltsin was unable to exercise the duties of his office with any consistency or impose a common policy line on the huge presidential administration.

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The Yeltsin Era

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