Yeltsin, Putin and the Unholy Alliance with Oligarchy

Boris Yeltsin was re-elected on July 3, 1996. To secure his victory and ward off a Communist Party comeback, he formed an unholy alliance with the oligarchy, setting the stage for today’s regime in Russia.

Russland Putin und Jelzin

Boris Yeltsin (right in photo) was re-elected with 53.8 percent of the vote – 13 points ahead of his opponent, Gennady Zyuganov of the Communist Party. A clear victory was anything but certain, and the ramifications continue to resonate two decades later, with the reign of President Vladimir Putin (left in photo).

Russia underwent a drastic change in the mid-1990s. A new constitution with democratic values was adopted in December 1993, and a market-driven economy took over from the planned one. Adherence to human rights was a priority. At the same time, unemployment was high and many Russians couldn’t live on their pay, which had effectively been made worthless by inflation.

Russland Gespräche Präsidenten Bill Clinton & Boris JelzinRussia underwent difficult change during Yeltsin and Clinton’s tenures


‘Less bad choice’

With a mix of skill and cunning, the oligarchs were able to profit enormously from Russia’s transitional period. They increasingly used their financial influence to shape politics. Well aware of what a return to Soviet-style communism might mean for their fortunes and looking to avoid losing everything, they banded together, using ownership of the largest media outlets to campaign for Yeltsin.

The pact with the oligarchy secured Yeltsin’s victory. The Communists became less relevant. However, Yeltsin wasn’t able to continue the democratic reforms he had begun, and he lost control of his followers. In poor health and trapped by oligarchs, in August 1999 he dropped his preferred candidate to succeed him, Boris Nemtsov, in favor of Vladimir Putin, a disciple of the oligarch Boris Berezovsky.


Putin ignored Yeltsin’s reforms. He removed the oligarchs from power and replaced them with his own friends. Russia has become more authoritarian and less liberal under Putin, but Putin is not solely responsible; the 1996 presidential election played a role.

original source: Deutsche Welle

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