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Profile: Boris Yeltsin
Boris Yeltsin was a participant or observer in the following events:
When Dick Cheney becomes defense secretary (see March 20, 1989 and After), he brings into the Pentagon a core group of young, ideological staffers with largely academic (not military) backgrounds. Many of these staffers are neoconservatives who once congregated around Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (see Early 1970s). Cheney places them in the Pentagon’s policy directorate, under the supervision of Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, himself one of Jackson’s cadre. While most administrations leave the policy directorate to perform mundane tasks, Wolfowitz and his team have no interest in such. “They focused on geostrategic issues,” one of his Pentagon aides will recall. “They considered themselves conceptual.” Wolfowitz and his team are more than willing to reevaluate the most fundamental precepts of US foreign policy in their own terms, and in Cheney they have what reporters Franklin Foer and Spencer Ackerman call “a like-minded patron.” In 1991, Wolfowitz will describe his relationship to Cheney: “Intellectually, we’re very much on similar wavelengths.”
A Different View of the Soviet Union - Cheney pairs with Wolfowitz and his neoconservatives to battle one issue in particular: the US’s dealings with the Soviet Union. Premier Mikhail Gorbachev has been in office for four years, and has built a strong reputation for himself in the West as a charismatic reformer. But Cheney, Wolfowitz, and the others see something far darker. Cheney opposes any dealings with the Soviets except on the most adversarial level (see 1983), and publicly discusses his skepticism of perestroika, Gorbachev’s restructing of the Soviet economy away from a communist paradigm. In April, Cheney tells a CNN news anchor that Gorbachev will “ultimately fail” and a leader “far more hostile” to the West will follow in his footsteps. Some of President Bush’s more “realistic” aides, including James Baker, Brent Scowcroft, and Condoleezza Rice, as well as Bush himself, have cast their lot with Gorbachev and reform; they have no use for Cheney’s public advocacy of using the USSR’s period of transitional turmoil to dismember the nation once and for all.
Cheney's Alternative Policy - Cheney turns to the neoconservatives under Wolfowitz for an alternative strategy. They meet on Saturday mornings in the Pentagon’s E ring, where they have one maverick Sovietologist after another propound his or her views. Almost all of these Sovietologists echo Cheney and Wolfowitz’s view—the USSR is on the brink of collapse, and the US should do what it can to hasten the process and destroy its enemy for good. They assert that what the Soviet Union needs is not a reformer guiding the country back into a papered-over totalitarianism, to emerge (with the US’s help) stronger and more dangerous than before. Instead, Cheney and his cadre advocate enforced regime change in the Soviet Union. Supporting the rebellious Ukraine will undermine the legitimacy of the central Soviet government, and supporting Boris Yeltsin, the president of the Russian Republic, will strike at the heart of the Gorbachev regime. Bush and his core advisers worry about instability, but Cheney says that the destruction of the Soviet Union is worth a little short-term disruption.
Failure - Bush will not adopt the position of his defense secretary, and will continue supporting Gorbachev through the Soviet Union’s painful transition and eventual dissolution. After Cheney goes public one time too many about his feelings about Gorbachev, Baker tells Scowcroft to “[d]ump on Dick” with all deliberate speed. During the final days of the Soviet Union, Cheney will find himself alone against Bush’s senior advisers and Cabinet members in their policy discussions. [New Republic, 11/20/2003]
Entity Tags: George Herbert Walker Bush, Brent Scowcroft, Boris Yeltsin, Franklin Foer, US Department of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, James A. Baker, Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson, Condoleezza Rice, Mikhail Gorbachev, Spencer Ackerman
Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence
Russian President Boris Yeltsin proposes that the US and Russia engage in a “joint” global defense system that would supplant the US-only Strategic Defense Initiative (see March 23, 1983 and January 29, 1991). He says that Russia will continue to honor the US-Soviet Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (see May 26, 1972), and proposes that all existing anti-satellite (ASAT) programs be eliminated and banned. [Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008]
Yeltsin and Clinton share a laugh. [Source: Associated Press / BBC]US President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin issue a joint statement that they have “agreed on the fundamental importance of preserving the viability and integrity of the ABM Treaty” (see May 26, 1972). In the statement, Clinton and Yeltsin state: “Both sides have an interest in developing and fielding effective theater missile defense systems on a cooperative basis. The presidents agree that the two sides will conduct a joint exercise of theater missile defenses and early warning. This exercise would contribute to providing a basis for US and Russian forces to operate together, for example, in peacekeeping operations.” [Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008]
The new peace accords and arms reductions negotiations between the US and Russia (see November 3, 1992, July 13, 1993, and September 28, 1994) are severely tested when the Russian military informs President Boris Yeltsin that it has detected a missile launch bound for Russian territory—possibly a nuclear missile from a US submarine launched to destroy the Russian government in Moscow. With the missile in flight, Yeltsin convenes an emergency teleconference of his senior defense officials and discusses launching a nuclear counterstrike against the US. Two minutes before the missile is to detonate on Russian soil—and the Russians are to launch the counterstrike—the Russians realize the “missile” is actually a Norwegian scientific rocket that poses no threat to their nation. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 175]
US President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin issue a joint statement announcing that they endorse a set of principles for negotiating the deployment of “theater missile defense” systems (TMD), designed for protection from intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) and smaller “tactical” or “battlefield” nuclear weapons. TMD systems will not be designed and implemented in a manner that poses a serious threat to either side’s nuclear arsenals. They both agree that the 1972 ABM Treaty (see May 26, 1972) “does not apply to theater missile defense systems that may simply have a theoretical capability against some strategic missiles but which would not be militarily significant in the context of operational considerations.” They agree that “theater missile defense systems will not be deployed by the sides for use against each other,” and that “the scale of deployment—in number and geographic scope—of theater missile defense systems by either side will be consistent with theater missile defense programs confronting that side.” The two nations will develop their respective TMD systems “on a cooperative basis.” [Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008]
Aleksandr Zhilin, a prominent military journalist and retired Air Force colonel, publishes an article entitled “Storm in Moscow” in the Moskovskaya Pravda newspaper. According to unnamed sources, Zhilin reports that a group of government figures in President Yelstin’s administration are plotting to destabilize Russian politics by committing spectacular acts of terrorism and other crimes. This alleged plan aims to discredit Mayor of Moscow Yury Luzhkov, a possible candidate in the up-coming presidential elections of 2000. “From trustworthy sources in the Kremlin the following has become known. The administration of the president has drafted and adopted (individual points have been reported to Yeltsin) a broad plan for discrediting Luzhkov with the aid of provocations, intended to destabilize the socio-psychological situation in Moscow. In circles close to Tatyana Dyachenko [Yeltsin’s younger daughter], the given plan is being referred to as ‘Storm in Moscow.’ […] As is confirmed by our sources, the city awaits great shocks. The conducting of loud terrorist acts (or attempts at terrorist acts) is being planned in relation to a number of government establishments: the buildings of the FSB [the Russian intelligence agency], MVD [the Ministry of Internal Affairs], Council of Federation, Moscow City Court, Moscow Arbitration Court, and a number of editorial boards of anti-Luzhkov publications. Also foreseen is the kidnapping of a number of well-known people and average citizens by ‘Chechen rebels’ who with great pomp will then be ‘freed’ and brought to Moscow by Mr. [Vladimir] Rushailo [the newly appointed head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs].” Actions employing the use of force “will be conducted against structures and businessmen supporting Luzhkov.” Also, “a separate program has been worked out directed at setting organized crime groups in Moscow against one another and provoking a war among them.” The purpose of these actions is to create “the conviction that Luzhkov had lost control over the situation in the city.” In a subsequent article in Novaya Gazeta (November 18, 1999), Zhilin will report that the plan “Storm in Moscow” was dated June 29 and that he had obtained a copy on July 2. The article will go unnoticed immediately after publication, but will be much-discussed two months later after the September apartment bombings (see September 9, 1999, September 13, 1999, and September 22-24, 1999). The BBC will report on September 30, “Zhilin’s article is interesting because it was written before the bomb explosions. At the very least it says a lot about the fevered political atmosphere in Russia that some people take these theories [of a government conspiracy] seriously.” [BBC, 9/30/1999; Dunlop, 10/17/2001; RFE/RL Newsline, 3/27/2002; National Review Online, 4/30/2002; Dunlop, 10/5/2004, pp. 11 ]
Yeltsin and Putin [Source: BBC]Russian President Boris Yeltsin dismisses his prime minister, Sergei Stepashin, and the entire Russian government, naming Vladimir Putin as acting prime minister. Putin is the head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), which is the new name of the KGB. [BBC, 8/9/1999] For many observers, Stepashin was dismissed because he had been unable to become a politically viable heir to Yeltsin, who must step down in 2001. Putin, who is unknown to the public, seems to have been hand-picked mainly for his loyalty. [New York Times, 8/10/1999] The Russian news service Park.ru offers this fairly representative analysis: “Only a trusted person from one of the ‘power ministries’ can ensure the safety of Yeltsin’s entourage after his term in office, and the former FSB boss can prove indispensable.” [BBC, 8/9/1999]
Yevgeny Primakov. [Source: BBC (2000)]Yevgeny Primakov, who was Russian prime minister until he was summarily dismissed by President Boris Yeltsin in May 1999, announces that he will lead Yuri Luzhkov’s Fatherland-All Russia party for the upcoming Duma elections in December. Polls indicate Primakov is the country’s most trusted politician. He has demonstrated his willingness to investigate corruption. The Primakov-Luzhkov alliance threatens the Kremlin’s plans for a political succession that would protect Yeltsin’s entourage after the next presidential elections, scheduled for June 2000. But in an attempt to re-assure the Kremlin, Primakov proposes a new law guaranteeing “full security and a worthy life” to presidents after they leave office. Reports the New York Times: “That last proposal was an obvious olive branch to Mr. Yeltsin and his presidential administration, whose increasingly desperate battle to influence the choice of a presidential successor is widely thought to be driven by concern for their own future.” [New York Times, 8/18/1999]
A coalition of pro-government parties unexpectedly wins elections to the Duma, the Russian parliament. The Chechnya War, according to all observers, was the main factor in turning the electorate in the Kremlin’s favor. “The Chechen war—loudly criticized in the West for its brutal bombardments of civilians—has galvanized Russian public opinion and, according to most political experts, turned the national debate away from a search for social stability toward an endorsement for a strong state, headed by a strong leader. That shift in the national mood has been answered by [Russian Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin”, says the New York Times. [New York Times, 12/20/1999] In addition, during the campaign, the opposition led by Yuri Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow, and Yevgeny Primakov, a former prime minister removed from office by President Yeltsin in early 1999, was pummeled by hostile media reports from pro-Kremlin news organizations, in particular Boris Berezovsky’s ORT television network. [New York Times, 12/15/1999]
In a New Year’s Eve televised speech that stuns Russians, President Boris Yeltsin announces his resignation and nominates Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as acting president. Yeltsin, who has spent much of the previous months in hospital for a heart condition and alcoholism, begs the Russian people for their forgiveness for his administration’s failings. He also praises Putin as the best man to replace him: “Why hold on to power for another six months, when the country has a strong person, fit to be president, with whom practically all Russians link their hopes for the future today? Why should I stand in his way? Why wait for another six months?” Putin later promises: “There will be no power vacuum even for a moment.” [BBC, 12/31/1999; BBC, 12/31/1999; CNN, 12/31/1999] The BBC’s correspondent later sums up a widespread belief concerning the change-over: “The theory goes that the Family [Yeltsin’s entourage] decided to push Mr. Yeltsin out of office early, in order to make it easier for their chosen successor, Vladimir Putin to take over. Some even believe the Family deliberately started the war in Chechnya, in order to give Mr. Putin a platform, and a cause which would boost his popularity. In return, Mr. Putin would guarantee that the Family has protection from nosy Swiss and Russian investigators.” [BBC, 1/8/2000] In fact, one of Putin’s first acts upon taking over is to sign a decree giving Yeltsin immunity from prosecution. [New York Times, 1/1/2000]
Bush and Putin at a Kremlin news conference announcing the SORT signing. [Source: September 11 News (.com)]Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin sign a joint US-Russian treaty, the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), agreeing to reduce their strategic nuclear arsenals from some 6,000 warheads, respectively, to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads apiece. Bush allies hail the agreement as evidence of Bush’s willingness to negotiate with other nations and his desire to reduce and perhaps end the threat of mutual nuclear annihilation. However, the treaty is very similar in content to an informal agreement between Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin in 1997. And SORT has far more flexibility built into its framework than either Clinton or Yeltsin had discussed: it does not call for the destruction of delivery vehicles, as the START I and II agreements had (see May 1982 and After), nor does it call for the destruction of warheads themselves, as START III had. In reality, either side can merely remove weapons from missiles and bombers, store them, and redeploy them in the future. Secretary of State Colin Powell will reassure conservative senators in June that “the treaty will allow you to have as many warheads as you want.” Arms reduction opponent John Bolton (see June 2001) approves the treaty, later noting that it “provided ‘exit ramps’ to allow for rapid change.” The treaty—only 500 words long—provides for no verification protocols whatsoever. And, as author J. Peter Scoblic will later write, “in a bit of diplomatic quantum mechanics, the treaty’s warhead limit was slated to take effect on the very day that it expired—December 31, 2012—meaning it would be valid for no more than twenty-four hours.” Scoblic will conclude that the treaty, in line with Bush’s “new strategic framework” (see May 1, 2001), is “still designed to fight nothing less than an all-out nuclear war with Russia.” [Federation of American Scientists, 5/24/2002; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 177-178] Bush sees little need for the treaty, or any treaty, saying that “mutual trust” between the US and Russia should suffice (see July 2001). He agrees to this treaty in what Scoblic later calls a “condescending” manner, saying, “If we need to write it down on a piece of paper, I’ll do that.” Bolton will later call the treaty “the end of arms control.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 184]
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