Russia – From Yeltsin to Putin

By | February 23, 2022

The text of the new Constitution, promoted by President Yeltsin, was signed on November 8, 1993 and submitted to a referendum for popular approval on December 12 of the same year. The charter made Russia a highly centralized presidential republic, with the conferral of broad powers on the president, including the possibility of dissolving Parliament and compressing local autonomies.

With the launch of the Constitution, Yeltsin intended to end the conflict between the presidency and Parliament that had marked the new state entity to his advantage. Since the assumption of full powers in the Russian republic after the failed coup d’etat of August 1991, Yeltsin’s political action, although aimed at guiding the transition from the Soviet system to a Western-type democratic system, had in fact been characterized by a marked propensity to centralize powers and govern by decree, causing numerous clashes with Parliament. The most dramatic moment was configured in September 1993, when the president had imposed the dissolution of the Duma, crushing the resistance of the deputies barricaded in the parliamentary seat with the army tanks.

In June 1996, Yeltsin presented himself as a candidate in the presidential elections, after a period of absence from political life due to health problems, coming out victorious after a tough electoral campaign characterized by a strong contrast with the Duma and by serious popular discontent for economic difficulties.. Against the nostalgic attempts to return to the past, Yeltsin on the one hand was forced to give way to the aspirations of independence, on the other he tried to build a rapprochement with states of the former USSR such as Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. At the end of 1996, Russia had to suffer the setback of the military defeat in Chechnya followed by the withdrawal of troops from the capital Grozny, occupied in January of the previous year, and the signing of a peace treaty which, by postponing the decision on the definition of relations between the two capitals to 2001, he effectively recognized the Caucasian republic, which in the meantime had itself proclaimed itself an Islamic republic, almost absolute independence. In foreign policy, the need to be able to count on aid for the restructuring of the Russian economy imposed on Yeltsin extensive agreements with the West and in particular with the United States.

In the second half of the 1990s, the country’s situation continued to be characterized by strong symptoms of instability both economically and politically, in a climate of growing social malaise. The complex transition towards a market economy had generated, in fact, an intertwining between economic powers, government apparatuses and organized crime that made the political-institutional landscape extremely uncertain and the reorganization of the state budget particularly difficult with serious repercussions on the living conditions of large part of the population. Furthermore, Yeltsin’s second presidential term was characterized by prolonged absences due to poor health conditions. Russian politics appeared in many moments without guidance, especially in the months of August and September 1998, when the stock market crash revealed the failure of efforts to revive the economy. Squeezed between the agitation of the miners without a salary for months and the panic that spread following the drastic devaluation of the ruble, Yeltsin recalled to the government the prime minister whom he abruptly dismissed a few months earlier but, failing to obtain the consent of the Communist-majority Duma, he had to accept a coalition government with the participation of the Communists. The situation became more serious with the explosion in 1999 of very serious financial scandals that closely affected the very centers of power: in fact, the president himself and his family were involved and, in addition to many private banks, also the Bank central. In fact, it turned out that the latter.

1999 also saw the deterioration of relations with Grozny which was to lead to the Second Chechen War. The decision to intervene again with arms in the Caucasian republic was motivated by the needs of the fight against terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, after on 5 August groups of Chechen independence activists had occupied some villages in Dagestan. Three days later Yeltsin appointed Vladimir Putin as prime minister, head of the security services (the former KGB), who resumed military operations in Chechnya, earning the support of nationalist public opinion. On 23 September, with the bombing of Grozny, a bloody air campaign began and on 1 October the Russian troops crossed the Chechen border. Rejecting as inadmissible internal interference any proposal coming from A West in favor of finding a political solution to the crisis and by hindering the humanitarian aid initiatives launched or proposed at the international level in favor of the civilian population, Putin made military operations take on ever larger dimensions. In February 2000 Grozny was forced to capitulate and in the following June the country was placed under direct control of Moscow.

The turning point in the war and the nationalist, substantially anti-Western wave that had accompanied and supported it, determined a clear and rapid change in the orientations of the electors. In the elections of December 19, 1999, the Communists managed to maintain the relative majority, but the Unity party, founded three months earlier in support of Putin, achieved a resounding success, while the party opposed to Yeltsin was greatly reduced. After the defeat of his opponents, having obtained every guarantee as regards immunity, on December 31, 1999 Yeltsin suddenly left the scene, indicating Putin as his candidate in the presidential elections called for March 2000. Yeltsin’s successor was elected in the first round with over 53% of the votes.

Russia - From Yeltsin to Putin