Boris Yeltsin: who was president who ruled Russia after Mikhail Gorbachev and Soviet Union collapse?

Boris Yeltsin succeeded the late Mikhail Gorvachev, and preceded current President Vladimir Putin.

Boris Yeltsin was a Russian and Soviet politician who served as the first popularly elected president of Russia from 1991 to 1999.

He succeeded Mikhail Gorbachev - the man credited with helping bring the Cold War to a peaceful end - who died yesterday evening.

Considered a controversial figure, Mr Yeltsin received praise for his role in helping dismantle the Soviet Union and transform Russia into a representative democracy.

However, the former President was criticised for overseeing a growth in corruption and an increase in inequality, as well as for economic mismanagement.

Boris Yeltsin was President of Russia from 1991 - 1999. Credit: Getty Images

So who exactly was Mr Yeltsin, what was his influence on Russia, and how did his political career develop?

Who was Boris Yeltsin?

Boris Yeltsin was born on 1 February 1931 in the village of Butka, an area that at that time was one of the republics of the Soviet Union - which was then under the dictatorship of Joseph Stalin.

His family moved to Kazan a year later, where Mr Yeltsin attended primary school, before the family moved again to Berezniki, where Mr Yeltsin continued his education.

After years of political work, in which Mr Yeltsin was involved in the Communist Party, worked with Mr Gorbachev, and eventually became President of Russia - he died on 23 April 2007, at the age of 76, from congestive heart failure.

Vladimir Putin declared the day of his funeral, 25 April 2007, a national day of mourning, commenting: “[Boris Yeltsin’s] Presidency has inscribed him forever in Russian and in world history.

He continued: “A new democratic Russia was born during his time: a free, open and peaceful country. A state in which the power truly does belong to the people.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a national day of mourning on the day of Boris Yeltsin’s funeral. Credit: Getty Images

Former President Gorbachev, who recently passed away, also issued a statement on Mr Yeltsin’s death.

He said: “I express my profoundest condolences to the family of the deceased, who had major deeds for the good of the country as well as serious mistakes behind him.

“It was a tragic destiny.”

Mr Yeltsin’s funeral ceremony was broadcast live on state television, with the lowering of his coffin accompanied by an artillery salute.

What is Mr Yeltsin’s political history?

Mr Yeltsin joined the Communist Party in 1961, and began full-time work in the party in 1968.

He rose to political prominence in 1985 when he became an ally of then-President Mikhail Gorbachev, who elevated him to the Politburo.

Boris Yeltsin was a Russian and Soviet politician. Credit: Getty Images

Mr Yeltsin also served as the mayor of Moscow.

He estranged Mr Gorbachev however when he began criticising the slow pace of reform at party meetings, challenging senior party members, and even criticising the president himself.

The politician was thus forced to resign in disgrace from Moscow party leadership in 1987 and from the Politburo in 1988.

How did he become President of Russia?

Mr Yeltsin’s popularity with Soviet Union voters as an advocate of democracy had survived his fall from grace.

Therefore, he took advantage of President Gorbachev’s introduction of competitive elections to the USSR Congress of People’s Deputies (in other words, the new Soviet Parliament) to win a seat in that body in 1989.

In 1990, he was elected chairman of the Supreme Society of the Russian Soviet Federation Socialist Republic, in spite of the fact that Mr Gorbachev personally pleaded for him to not be elected.

Boris Yeltsin called for then-President Mikhail Gorbachev to resign from office. Credit: Getty Images

Mr Yeltsin then began calling for President Gorbachev to resign, and in 1991 submitted himself to election for the Russian presidency - where he ultimately won 59% of the vote, compared to just 18% for his closest competitor.

President Gorbachev resigned on December 25, 1991.

Six days later, the Soviet Union officially dissolved and was replaced by the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Mr Yeltsin became the first freely elected leader in Russia’s 1,000-year history.

What happened during his presidency?

Just days after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Mr Yeltsin resolved to embark on a programme of radical economic reform.

His new regime aimed to completely dismantle socialism and fully implement capitalism, converting the world’s largest command economy into a free-market one.

On January 1, 1992, President Yeltsin signed accords with US President George H. W. Bush, declaring the Cold War officially over after nearly 47 years.

A few months later, prices skyrocketed throughout Russia, and a deep credit crunch shut down many industries and brought about a prolonged depression.

The reforms devastated the living standards of much of the population and increased inequality - with Mr Yeltsin blamed for much of the devastation.

Groups protested against Boris Yeltsin’s war in Chechnya. Credit: Getty Images

He weathered a constitutional crisis in 1993, after ordering the unconstitutional dissolution of Russian Parliament, leading parliament to impeach him.

The crisis ended after troops loyal to him stormed the parliament building and stopped an armed uprising. Mr Yeltsin then introduced a new constitution which significantly expanded the powers of the president.

In December 1994, President Yeltsin ordered the military invasion of Chechnya in an attempt to restore Moscow’s control over the republic.

Nearly two years later, Yeltsin withdrew federal forces from the devastated Chechnya under a 1996 peace agreement brokered by Alexander Lebed, Mr Yeltsin’s then-security chief.

The decision to launch the war in Chechnya dismayed many in the West.

Mr Yeltsin was re-elected as President in the 1996 election, which was claimed by critics to be pervasively corrupt.

In May 1999, Mr Yeltsin survived another attempt of impeachment, this time by the democratic and communist opposition in the State Duma.

Amid growing internal pressure, he resigned by the end of 1999 and was succeeded by his chosen successor, Vladimir Putin, who was serving as prime minister.

Vladimir Putin succeeded Boris Yeltsin as President of Russia. Credit: Getty Images

What was his legacy?

Mr Yeltsin is credited by some with introducing freedom and democracy to Russia, but it is important to remember that his predecessor Mr Gorbachev was responsible for the gradual liberalisation of Russia from 1985, and the start of the country’s democratisation in 1988.

Nevertheless, the former president was still instrumental in dismantling the Soviet Union - and allowing its former republics to make their way as independent states.

He is remembered by some for steering Russia towards a free market, and for a while, eliminating government censorship of the press.

Boris Yeltsin was without a doubt a controversial figure. Credit: Getty Images

Others however blame him for the ills and hardships that followed the collapse of the Soviet.

Mr Yeltsin was also long criticised for the unpopular war he began in Chechnya, which he was both unable to win and unwilling to end.

His campaign to subdue the secessionists, starting in December 1994, left as many as 80,000 people dead - exposing the breakdown of the military machine of Russia, raising concern about its stability and tainting the image of a democratic Russia in the West.

In his memoir, once he was no longer President, Mr Yeltsin wrote: "I gave it my all. I put my whole heart and soul into running my presidential marathon. I honestly went the distance.”