Old Russia in a new world: From Yeltsin to Putin

Old Russia in a new world: From Yeltsin to Putin

Boris Yeltsin outside the Kremlin after announcing his resignation on New Year's Eve 1999 in the traditional presidential end-of-year message. In the foreground, his successor, Vladimir Putin


Since Boris Yeltsin's presidency and Vladimir Putin's assumption of power, Russia has experienced significant political, economic, and geopolitical shifts, transitioning from post-Soviet chaos to a more assertive global player

Touseful Islam

Publisted at 1:25 PM, Wed Jul 10th, 2024

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On 10 July 1991 Boris Yeltsin was sworn-in as the president of the newly formed Russian Federation following his role in resisting the 1991 Soviet coup d'état attempt.

It symbolised not just a political change but a seismic shift from the crumbling Soviet Union to an era of fledgling democracy.

Boris Yeltsin's presidency marked a pivotal moment in Russian history, particularly in the aftermath of the Soviet Union's collapse.

His presidency was characterised by significant political and economic reforms, albeit amid turmoil and challenges.

However, as alcoholic Yeltsin's health deteriorated, and amid growing public discontent and political instability, he resigned on 31 December 1999.

This paved the way for Vladimir Putin, then Prime Minister, to become acting president and then usher in the era of the new tzar – Russia of the old in a new world.

Boris as boss

Yeltsin championed democratic reforms, including the adoption of a new constitution in 1993, which established a semi-presidential system and enhanced presidential powers.

It laid the foundation for post-Soviet Russia's political and economic landscape but left a mixed legacy due to both achievements and controversies.

However, his tenure was also marred by political instability, clashes with parliament, and the use of force to quell opposition, notably the 1993 constitutional crisis.

Yeltsin pursued market-oriented reforms known as shock therapy, aiming to transition Russia to a market economy.

These reforms led to privatisation, deregulation, and opening up to foreign investment. Despite initial economic growth, the reforms were accompanied by widespread corruption, inequality, and economic hardship for many Russians.

Initially, the bold actions garnered him widespread support both domestically and internationally; however, his tenure soon became marred by economic turmoil, political instability, and allegations of corruption.

Yeltsin's image as a reformer gradually eroded due to his management style, characterised by erratic behaviour and health issues, often exacerbated by alcoholism.

His decision-making became increasingly controversial, such as the use of force in the 1993 constitutional crisis and the unpopular war in Chechnya.

Despite his reelection in 1996, Yeltsin's presidency ended with widespread disillusionment among the Russian population, disillusioned by economic hardships and social upheaval.

Following Yeltsin's resignation Putin quickly consolidated power, leveraging his background in the KGB and portraying himself as a strong leader capable of restoring stability and order.

Putin the power

Vladimir Putin’s early presidency was marked by efforts to centralise power, regain state control over key industries, and assert Russia's influence on the global stage.

His tenure saw the weakening of democratic institutions, media control, and suppression of political opposition, raising concerns about the state of democracy in Russia.

Putin’s popularity, however, was buoyed by economic stability, rising incomes due to oil revenues, and a nationalist narrative emphasising Russia's resurgence.

Under Putin, Russia pursued assertive foreign policies, including conflicts in Chechnya, the annexation of Crimea in 2014, and involvement in conflicts in Syria and Ukraine.

These actions have strained Russia's relations with the West but bolstered Putin's domestic support through nationalist sentiments.

Since Putin assumed office, Russia has experienced a complex trajectory.

Putin's tenure initially saw economic growth, driven by oil revenues. However, reliance on energy exports has made Russia vulnerable to global oil price fluctuations.

Economic diversification efforts have been limited, contributing to long-term economic challenges.

The political landscape has become increasingly authoritarian, with restrictions on civil liberties, independent media, and opposition activities.

Putin's regime has centralised power, limiting pluralism and fostering a tightly controlled political system.

Russia has sought to assert itself as a global power, challenging Western dominance and promoting alternative geopolitical alliances.

This has included strategic partnerships with countries like China and assertive actions in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.


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