"Today, on the last day of the outgoing century, I resign... Russia must enter the new millennium with new politicians, with new faces, with new intelligent, strong, energetic people, and we who have been in power for many years must go."
On December 31, 1999, Russian president Boris Yeltsin stunned the world by stepping down six months ahead of schedule. His decision was cloaked in secrecy, and his announcement rivaled the Eiffel Tower fireworks for dramatic effect.
In his new memoir, Yeltsin looks back on the struggles and upheavals in Russia over the last few years and his own role as the man who held the strings. Opening with his now famous Millennial Eve speech, he reflects on a decade of leadership, decisions, and crucial events, from the coup of 1991 to his first showdown with Parliament in 1993, Chechnya, and more. He ponders politics, his family, his relationship with Bill Clinton, and how he wants history to remember him. The style throughout is "vintage Yeltsin" - pithy, direct, anecdotal.
Midnight Diaries is the ultimate insider's story of the Russian Federation from 1991 - 1999. It's also the portrait of a man who, despite reactionary forces and the pull of communist doctrine, was determined to give his country and people a better future.
About the Author
BORIS NIKOLAYEVICH YELTSIN became Russia's first democratically elected President in May 1991. He was re-elected in 1996 to a second four-year term which expired in June 2000. He is also the author of Struggle for Russia, Against the Grain, and Putsch: The Diary: Three Days That Collapsed the Empire, August 19-21, 1991. Yeltsin lives in Moscow.
Read an Excerpt
December 31, 1999
It is December 28, 1999, and President Boris Yeltsin is taping his annual New Year's address to the Russian people. Suddenly he stops the cameraman and announces that the speech must be rewritten. His flustered aides have three days to come up with something better. Little do they know that Yeltsin has already decided to resign. Only one other person knows the secret: Vladimir Putin, his designated successor. But Putin doesn't know the timing, and Yeltsin doesn't dare tell anyone else about his decisionnot even his wife. His resignation must be swift and sudden. No one can steal his thunder. We witness Yeltsin's last three days in office, as he strategically relinquishes the reins of the second most powerful nation on earth.
* * *
On December 28, 1999, as usual, the president's New Year's address to the nation was being taped. The setting was the reception hall of the Kremlin, with a decorated tree, gilded grandfather clocks, and customary ritual; the speech was to include the standard New Year's greetings. A camera crew from ORT, Russia's public television station, worked briskly and attentively. There were just a few peoplethe producer, the cameraman, and the sound and light men.
I wished Russians a happy New Year and got up from my desk. The lighted text on the teleprompter grew dim.
"So, here's the story," I said dryly. "My voice is hoarse today, and I don't like the text. So we're going to retape the speech."
Myspeechwriters' faces fell. I hadn't commented on the text before then, and my announcement came as a complete surprise. "Why, Boris Nikolayevich?" they asked.
"More work has to be done on the text. I'm giving it three days," I told them. "We'll tape it on December 31."
The television crew was upset. "Boris Nikolayevich, why December 31? How will we have time to edit the tape before it airs? What if you have some changes, or, God forbid, there is some kind of technical mishap? Why such a late deadline?"
"Let me repeat: The retaping will be on December 31."
And I left the room.
I couldn't reveal the real reason for my apparent capriciousness. Thank God my staff had grown used to my nature, to my impromptu remarks and surprises. They were no longer truly fazed by anything. They were just a little upset. But what if one of them suspected something? Thinking of this possibility, I slowed my step, causing my adjutant to stumble and glance at me in surprise before slowing down behind me.
The long Kremlin corridors always give me time to calm myself and collect my thoughts. I had a lot to think about. I had never kept such an important decision secret for so long, even from my close aides in the presidential staff.
I have always liked to make decisions in private and implement them rapidly. Once a decision is made, I cannot tolerate the red tape, the conversations, and the delays. With each hour the decision loses its force and effectiveness. That is why I usually turn on the conveyor belt immediately. The implementation machinefirst my chief of staff, then my aides, the analysts, the lawyers, and the office staffgoes straight to work. The press secretary, television reporters, wire services, and others follow. With each passing minute, more and more people learn the news. It's as if waves are spreading out from the decision.
That's how it always has been in my eight years in the number-one post in the country, the president of the new Russia. But today it's completely different. Today I'm carrying the burden of a decision I have made in private. I am completely alonealmost. Besides me, there is only one person who knows about this decision. I cannot share this information with anyone else. If the news were to leak, the whole effect would be lost. The emotional, human, and political point of my gesture would be gone. The energy of the decision would dissipate.
I had decided to resign from the office of president.
I was leaving deliberately, of my own volition. I was putting all the force of my political will into this act. Therefore any leak, any advance talk, any forecasts or proposals would put the impact of the decision in jeopardy.
Today I would have to include two more people in the tight circle of those who knew. I had invited the head of the administration, Aleksandr Voloshin, as well as the former head of my administration, Valentin Yumashev, to my residence at Gorki-9, outside Moscow, for a meeting at 6:00 P.M.
They waited in the living room. To be honest, I was nervous. Very nervous. Here it was, the moment when I would launch my project. It was like firing a rocket from the Baikonur Space Center.
I asked my adjutant to invite the guests into my office. They came in, greeted me, and sat down.
"Aleksandr Stalyevich, Valentin Borisovich," I said, "listen to me carefully. I want to inform you about my decision. On December 31, I will resign."
Voloshin stared at me, not blinking an eye. Yumashev also froze and waited for what I would say next.
"You must draft the appropriate decrees and the text of my speech," I continued.
Voloshin kept staring at me, paralyzed.
"Aleksandr Stalyevich," I said. "You must have nerves of steel! The president has just announced to you that he is resigning, and you don't even react. Do you understand what I just said?"
Voloshin snapped out of it. "Boris Nikolayevich, I always keep my stormiest reactions inside. Of course I understood you. As chief of administration, I should probably try to talk you out of this move. But I won't do this because your decision is right, and very powerful."
Later Voloshin told me that he had become so flustered at that moment that he almost lost his composure. He had a lump in his throat. I guess Stalyevich really did have nerves of steel.
I felt relieved. Now there were four of us who knew the secret. Yumashev couldn't refrain from saying a few ecstatic words. A creative person, he immediately appreciated the beauty of the event. It was a new century! A new president!
Then we got down to the nuts and boltswhen we would prepare the text of the speech, what letters needed to be written, what decrees and other legal documents needed to be drafted for the morning of December 31. There was no precedent for a voluntary resignation by Russia's head of state, so everything had to be legally verified in full.
We sketched out an approximate plan of action for December 31, noting when the television address would be made, the decrees would be signed, and the letters sent out to the Duma and the Federation Council. We figured out whom we had to meet with and whom we had to telephone. This all had to be thought through in advance.
I don't think they expected this from me. Yumashev had known me for a long time, for more than ten years, and he had no inkling it would happen. When we finally seemed to have worked everything out, Valentin suddenly said: "Boris Nikolayevich, it's not right that Tanya doesn't know anything about this. It's not right, and it's not fair. She has been working with you for the last four years. Please tell her."
"All right, I'll think about it," I replied. We said good-bye. As I returned to my desk, I felt as if cats were scratching at me. I generally didn't tell my family about my decisions. But this was something else. My decision was too bound up with their lives.
I called Tanya in and told her to be seated across from me. She looked at me expectantly. "Yes, Papochka?" she said.
"Tanya, I'm going to resign," I told her.
She looked at me in surprise then threw herself toward me, crying. I gave her a handkerchief.
"Papa! Forgive me. Forgive me, please. Don't think ... It's just that it's so unexpected. You didn't tell anyone. Let me give you a kiss."
Then she and I sat for a long, long time talking. She told me what an interesting life we would now have. We would be able to walk down the street and meet people and visit people, and it would all be without a protocol and without a schedule. But the whole time her eyes kept welling up. "Daughter, you're driving me to tears," I said, waving my hand as if to say, "Go on, now."
Then Tanya asked me almost frantically, like a child, why Mama didn't know anything about this. "Later. Everything will come later," I said. We went downstairs for dinner. Naina, my wife, noticed that Tanya had been crying. She looked at me inquisitively but didn't say anything.
Now it was important not to have any slipups or leaks. If the news got out, there wouldn't be a resignation. I would have to delay it to a later time. But I didn't think anything would happen. With my reliable team, there wouldn't be any explosions. In fact, I was the one who struggled to keep the secret. In the comfortable, calm atmosphere of my home, I couldn't help but sometimes blurt out "Now, after the 31st ..." or "Well, after the New Year, everything will be clear." I would drop a hint like this, and then watch people to see if there was any reaction. Naina was calm. Lena, my other daughter, didn't seem to notice anything. They suspected nothing.
Now it was too late for doubts. The countdown had begun. The bomb was ticking.
There was only one other important hurdle: my conversation with my prime minister, Vladimir Putin. This would be our second talk about my decision. I assumed it would be very short. My first conversation with Putin had taken place about two weeks earlier, on December 14, five days before the parliamentary elections. We met in the office of my Gorki-9 residence. The conversation had not been brief. When I told him that I intended to make him acting president, Putin's first reaction made my heart sink. "I'm not ready for that decision, Boris Nikolayevich," he had said.
No, it wasn't weakness on his part. You wouldn't call Putin weak. It was the doubts of a strong person. "You see, Boris Nikolayevich," he explained. "It's a rather difficult destiny."
I didn't want to have to twist Putin's arm. Instead, I told him about myself, how I had come to work in Moscow. I was a little over fifty at that time, older than Putin by about seven or eight years. I was an energetic, healthy person. I told myself that if I got fed up with these Moscow bureaucrats, I would do something different. I would get out of politics. I would go back into construction. I'd move back to Sverdlovsk or somewhere else. Life seemed like a wide field, full of possibilities.
But there was only one path into the field. How could I explain that to Putin?
"I want to step down this year, Vladimir Vladimirovich," I told Putin. "This year. That's very important. The new century must begin with a new political era, the era of Putin. Do you understand? At one time, I, too, wanted to live my life in a completely different way. I didn't know it was going to turn out this way. But I had to ... I had to choose. Now you have to choose."
Putin turned the conversation to something else. "Russia needs you, Boris Nikolayevich. And you help me a lot. Remember the summit in Istanbul? If I had gone, it would have gone one way, but you went, and it was a different situation. It's very important that you and I work together. Maybe it would be better if you left at the end of your term."
I was silent for a while. I looked out the window. Two people were sitting and talking. It was a typical Moscow day, an ordinary morning. It was so simple, so open. But unlike Putin, I was in the iron grip of a decision already made. Once made, it wouldn't let me go.
"Well, what do you think? You haven't answered me," I prodded Putin.
"I agree, Boris Nikolayevich," he said.
That had been almost two weeks ago. Putin had had the opportunity to calmly think over everything that we had talked about at our last meeting. On the 14th we had discussed this issue in general, and now we had to get down to the details. Ready or not, he would have to take the reins of power immediately.
At 9:00 A.M. Putin came into my Kremlin office. I immediately had the impression that he was a different man. I suppose he seemed more decisive. I was satisfied. I liked his demeanor.
I told Putin how I planned to arrange things on the morning of December 31, what events would take place one after another: the television address, the signing of the decrees, the handing over of the nuclear suitcase, the meetings with the power ministers, and so on. Then we made some insignificant changes in what was now our joint plan.
I really liked Putin. I liked how he reacted, how he corrected several points in the planeverything was clear and precise. I love this moment in my work, when I leave the realm of emotions, feelings, and ideas and move to the hard plane of a decision's realization. It was simple, really: One president was leaving, and another (as yet only acting president) was coming in. Strictly by the law, accurately, and dryly, we were implementing the article of the Russian constitution concerning the transition of power. Since we were doing this for the first time, it was important not to forget anything.
Finally, we were finished. Our meeting was taking place in the Kremlin. The official setting wouldn't allow for a display of feelings. But here and now, for the last time, I was sitting next to Putin in the role of president, and for the last time he was not first person of the country. There was a lot I wanted to tell him. I think he had a lot to say to me, too. But we didn't say anything. We shook each other's hand. We hugged good-bye. Our next meeting was to be on December 31, 1999.
On December 30 Yumashev brought me the text of my televised speech. I read through it several times then took out a pen and began to make corrections. I added a line about how no one should think that I was leaving because of illness or that someone had forced me into this decision. This was my own decision, and I realized that I had to do it right away.
Yumashev started arguing with me. He said that no one had ever thought that they could force me out because of my illness or for any other reason. What kind of illness, with the elections six months away? "That line weighs down the whole speech," he said.
I thought about what he said, read it again, and decided that he was probably right.
On December 31 I woke up earlier than usual. After my normal family breakfast, while I was getting ready to leave for work, Tanya reminded me: "You'll tell Mama?"
Once again, I had my doubts. Perhaps I shouldn't worry her now? "Papa, I beg you," said Tanya.
I stood in the front hallway, undecided. I slowly buttoned up my coat.
"Naina, I've made a decision," I said. "I'm retiring. My televised address is this afternoon. Be sure to watch the TV."
Naina froze in place. She looked first at me, then at Tanya. She couldn't believe her ears. Then she turned like a whirlwind and began kissing and hugging me.
"How wonderful! Finally!" she cried. "Borya, is it really true?"
"That's it now. I have to go."
Tanya had been right. It was wrong not to warn my wife, the person closest to me, about such a decision. It wasn't human. But now it seemed as if I was growing sentimental, turning from a politician back into a regular human being. Thank heavens!
A car drove up to the doorway. There was that distinctive whoosh of the tires that bullet-proof cars make. Tolya Kuznetsov, head of the security service, opened the door for me as usual. He surely assumed that he and I would be setting off for the Kremlin like this every morning for another six months. I said nothing. I would have a heart-to-heart with Tolya later, after I retired.
8:00 A.M.: Voloshin summoned Brycheva, head of the legal department of the administration, and Zhuykov, Voloshin's aide on legal matters, to his office. He told them to prepare the decree on the resignation of the president and to draft two letters, one to the Duma and one to the Federation Council.
8:15 A.M.: I walked into my Kremlin office. On my desk, as usual, was my schedule of the day's activities: the taping of the New Year's address, a meeting with Prime Minister Putin, meetings with the deputies of the head of administration, a discussion of the January calendar, and then, finally, several telephone calls.
I no longer needed the calendar.
I got out my real schedule from my inside jacket pocket. It was the schedule I would be living by from now on. The piece of paper had gotten crushed in my pocket. I simply can't stand crumpled papers. I put the sheet on my desk and tried to smooth it out with my hand. I covered it with a folder, just in case, so no one would see it. But what was there to hide? Minutes were left before the countdown.
At 9:00 A.M.: Valery Semenchenko, office manager, came into my office, and put the usual presidential mail on my desk. By the end of the day I was supposed to have reviewed this pile of papers (coded telegrams, different reports from the power ministries, telegrams from the Foreign Ministry, and so on). I was also supposed to sign several documents (a veto of some laws, several assignments to various agencies, and some telegram greetings). I looked at one more document, a draft outline for my message to the Federal Assembly. "I won't be needing that," I thought to myself.
Semenchenko wished me a happy New Year and left.
All the documents that lay on my desk didn't mean anything anymore. There was only my crumpled schedule. But where were the main resignation decrees? I pushed a button on my console and asked for Voloshin.
He came in carrying a red folder, his expression agitated. Well, it seemed that Aleksandr Stalyevich of the steel nerves was beginning to crumble. "Boris Nikolayevich, everything is apparently ready, but ...," he began timidly.
I looked at him sternly. "What? Have you suddenly begun to have doubts? Just follow the plan!"
Voloshin looked at me in surprise. "No, no. What are you saying, Boris Nikolayevich? We're going according to the plan."
Once again, I pushed a button on the control panel. I asked that Putin be summoned by 9:30 A.M.
I opened the red folder with the decrees: "1. In accordance with Part 2, Article 92, of the Russian Federation constitution, at 12:00 midnight on December 31, 1999, I terminate the exercise of the powers of the office of the president of the Russian Federation. 2. In accordance with Part 3, Article 92, of the Russian Federation constitution, the chair of the government of the Russian Federation will temporarily exercise the powers of the office of the Russian Federation president from 12:00 midnight on December 31, 1999. This decree enters into effect the moment it is signed." Well, thank God. With a great sense of satisfaction and with a thick scratch of my pen, I signed the decree.
At exactly 9:30 A.M., Putin entered my office. We greeted each other. I asked him to summon Vladimir Shevchenko, head of protocol, and Dmitry Yakushkin, press secretary, along with Georgy Muravyov, the Kremlin cameraman, and the photographer, Aleksandr Sentsov.
I looked at everyone carefully and then read the decree aloud. Shevchenko was the first one to break down. "Boris Nikolayevich," he groaned. "Let's not sign that decree yet. Let's wait for a week. We have the trip to Bethlehem coming up."
I looked at Putin. He gave a slightly embarrassed smile. I shook his hand. "Congratulations."
My aides were in shock: Anatoly Kuznetsov, Valery Semenchenko, Aleksei Gromov, Andrei Vavra, the secretary from the outer officeI can't list them all now. I just remember their amazed expressions. And their silent question: "Why?" I had known that this would come as a surprise to them, but I hadn't supposed it would be such a shock.
I went into the reception room, with its familiar New Year's decorations. The same camera crew was there. They didn't have happy holiday expressions on their faces. They already knew that I was resigning. Half an hour ago, in accordance with our plan, Voloshin had brought them the text of my television address. It was already typed into the teleprompter.
I walked decisively over to the desk and then sat down. I heard the voice of the producer, Kaleriya Ivanovna. "Camera! Action!" I cleared my throat, but my voice came out as a croak. I stopped, took a sip of water, and then calmly and firmly began my speech: "My dear fellow Russians!"
I got through the speech with almost no trouble. Almost. At one point a speck got in my eye, and I rubbed it away with my hand.
When I finished the last word, there was absolute silence. I could hear the clock ticking in the room. And then suddenly somebody clapped, and then another person, and another, and I raised my eyes and saw that the entire television crew was giving me a standing ovation. I didn't know what to do. The women didn't try to hide their tears, and I cheered them up as best I could. I asked that champagne be brought in, and the women gave me flowers. We clinked our glasses and raised a toast to the New Year and to that day. To my surprise I realized that I was in a good mooda very good, cheerful mood.
The cameraman took the cassette out of the camera. I took it in my hands. A small black plastic box. That was it. It was probably more important than any of the decrees or the letters to the Duma. Here, on this tape, I was announcing my decision to the people. From the moment this speech went on the air, my presidential term would be over, and the term of Vladimir Putin as acting president would begin.
I searched for Yumashev, and nodded to him. He took the cassette and left. An armored car was parked at entry number 6 of the Kremlin, at the Borovitsky Gates. The car was accompanied by the traffic police. That was how the cassette would be delivered, under escort, to Ostankino, where the television studio was located. And there Yumashev would personally see to it that at exactly 12:00 noon, the televised speech would go on the air.
What came next on my crumpled paper? A meeting with Patriarch Aleksy. I returned to my office. The patriarch slowly entered. I told him about my decision. He looked at me attentively; pausing for a long time. "A manly decision," said the patriarch, using an expression that was not the least bit clerical. Then he blessed me. We talked for a while, the patriarch, Putin, and I. I noticed to my satisfaction that Putin was developing nice personal relations with his holiness. Putin, too, would need the help of this wise man. Aleksy wished him every success and bowed to him as he left.
The next item on my schedule was the transfer of the nuclear suitcase. Since the public would be most interested in this historic moment, Dmitry Yakushkin asked that it be filmed by our cameraman. The procedure itself was fairly dull. Yet another aspect of presidential power was taken from my shoulders and transferred to those of Vladimir Putin. Now I was no longer responsible for the nuclear suitcase and the nuclear button. Maybe I would finally get rid of my insomnia.
11:30 A.M.: Meeting with the power ministries. A ceremonial farewell lunch. A table was set in the presidential apartments on the third floor. This was our farewell, my farewell to my faithful comrades and their farewell to their commander in chief. We would watch my resignation speech on TV together.
At about 11:50, in the middle of lunch, Naina telephoned Tanya. "Tanya," she said. "I've been thinking that the resignation shouldn't be announced today. Why upset people? Why get them worried? Can you imagine? People have to celebrate New Year's and here the president is leaving. Why couldn't he wait for a few days? He can leave after the New Year. Think about it. Talk to Papa again."
Tanya answered in a steely voice, "Mama, that's not possible. Don't worry; everything's going to be fine. Go and watch TV."
In fact, there was a mix-up with our TV viewing at the lunch. Five minutes before the show was to go on the air, it turned out there was no television set in the hall where we were meeting. People searched around frantically. The closest TV was in Tanya's office. We dragged it out of there and just barely managed to turn it on a half minute before the speech began.
I hardly looked at the TV. I wanted to close my eyes and bow my head, but instead I stared directly ahead. The ministers and the generals watched in complete silence. Some of them had tears in their eyes. If these were the toughest men in the country, how would others react?
We drank champagne. An enormous bouquet of flowers appeared from somewhere. The chandeliers, the crystal, the windowseverything glittered with a New Year's glow. Suddenly, for the first time that day, I realized that it was actually New Year's Eve. Some present I was giving to everyone!
After lunch, I retreated to my office. At about 1:00 P.M., I got up from my desk, said good-bye and headed toward the door. My soul was light and airy. There was only an unusually loud thudding of my heart, the tension of these days making itself felt. I stopped in the hallway near the elevator. I had almost forgotten. I took my presidential pen out of my pocketthe pen I had used to sign my last decreeand gave it to Putin.
That was it. That was all. Everything I wanted to do that day I had done.
I went downstairs. My car drove up to the door. It was snowing. A nice, soft, clean snow surrounded the Kremlin.
I wanted to say something important in farewell to Vladimir Putin. What a hard job he would be facing. How I wanted to help him in some way.
"Take care ... Take care of Russia," I said to him. Putin looked at me and nodded his head. The car slowly circled. I closed my eyes. I was tired, very tired.
On the way to the dacha, a telephone rang in the car. My adjutant said, "Clinton wants to speak with you." I asked the president of the United States to call back later, at 5:00 P.M. Now I could indulge a little. Now I was retired.
Naina and Lena greeted me, kissed me, and congratulated me. My granddaughter Katya called. "Wow, Grandpa! You're really some hero!"
There were dozens of calls. Tanya couldn't get off the telephone. I told her I was going to take a nap. I asked her not to wake me for an hour or two.
That New Year's Eve, as always, I played the gift-giver, Father Frost. I took presents for people out of my sack. My family gave me a handsome watch. Then we all went outside. We looked at the stars, the banks of snow, the trees. The night was pitch black. My family and I hadn't been so happy in a long time. In a long, long time.
Table of Contents
|Principal Figures in Midnight Diaries||xvii|
|Diagram of Boris Yeltsin's World||xxiv|
|1||December 31, 1999||1|
|3||The Operation: Before and After||35|
|4||The Generals of Russia||51|
|5||Chubais and the 1997 Team||71|
|7||Working with the Documents||115|
|8||The Group of Eight and Its Leaders||129|
|9||Meetings in Shirtsleeves||145|
|10||The Collapse of the Ruble||165|
|11||The Autumn Jinx||179|
|13||On the Sick List Again||207|
|16||The Kosovo Crisis||255|
|19||The Mayor Goes on the Attack||289|
|21||"Yeltsin Has Gone Mad"||325|
|22||The Second Chechen War||335|
|23||The Last Summit||345|
|24||The Party of the Center: Unity||351|
|26||A Different Life||367|
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Boris Yeltsin, according to this book, is a great man--he is responsible for all of Russia's recent successes and none of its failures. He deliberately made himself appear weak and unstable in order to fool his enemies and bravely sacrificed his public image for the good of Mother Russia. No doubt Boris Yeltsin believes these things about himself, but the intelligent reader will not share his delusions. Midnight Diaries is Yeltsin's last propoganda, a post-hoc explanation for his weaknesses as a leader. It does include some brave admissions, for instance, that Yeltsin nearly ended Russia's democracy, but on the whole, it is one-sided. The book does have a few good points: Yeltsin's personal opinion of world leaders are interesting, and the book makes an intriguing (if indirect)commentary of the disparity between the way we view ourselves and the way the world views us. It reminded me how much we Americans take our democracy for granted But, if you are looking for an accurate and unbiased chronicle of Russia's transition to democracy, I suggest you look elsewhere.