This is probably how Ball Paradox works in politics: the enemies of democracy entrench themselves in parliament, and their supporters – albeit solid to crude – have this very building set on fire by tanks. This is what happened in Moscow in early October 1993. After August 1991, it was the second open putsch by old Stalinists after the collapse of the communist bloc that failed.
From the two defeats, an ex-agent, who was around 40 at the time, came to the conclusion that the long-awaited return to Russia's old imperialism should not be tackled with a coup, but slowly from within. The consequences are well known. But in the fall of 1993, hardly anyone knew the name of Vladimir Putin, who at that time was the head of the city's external relations committee in St. Petersburg. He had nothing to do with the events in Moscow.
There, Boris Yeltsin, the most powerful man in the former Soviet Union since the August coup in 1991, tried to open up a better future for his country with harsh methods. As President of Russia, he was the heir to previous Kremlin rulers, but he faced insurmountable problems. Although Russia was rich in raw materials, it was completely run down.
Supported by advocates of a rapid and deep transformation of Russian society, Yeltsin embarked on rapid privatization of the economy, accompanied by widespread democratization. But the process soon stalled, also because a deep gap opened up between the (relatively few) profiteers and the mass of people who became impoverished.
The only stable force proved to be organized crime, which had grown in strength during the decades of post-Stalinism in what was then the USSR and now combined with the former KGB to form the real backbone of the vast country.
Parallel to this covert development, in the summer of 1993 the Congress of People's Deputies of Russia, which had been elected on March 4, 1990, opposed Yeltsin and blocked his policies. The driving forces behind this were both old communists and far-right nationalists, including a man named Vladimir Zhirinovsky.
On September 21, 1993, Yeltsin then dissolved the Congress of People's Deputies, but this only led to violent riots on Moscow's streets, which resulted in the first deaths. Opponents of the President barricaded themselves in what was then the building of the Russian Parliament, the huge “White House”. Spokesman was Russia's Vice President Alexander Ruzkoi.
On the night of October 3-4, 1993, Boris Yeltsin ordered an attack on Parliament with heavy weapons. Tanks fired at least 12 shells at the upper floors of the 119-meter-high building, which then caught fire. The opponents of Yeltsin then fled and gave up open resistance.
So tanks defended democracy against their opponents by firing at the seat of parliament. Based on his biography, it was actually highly unlikely that Boris Yeltsin of all people would issue such an order. Born in 1931 in a farming village in the Urals, he came from a poor background. He became a civil engineer and proved to be a hands-on doer.
It was only in 1961, at the age of 30, that he joined the CPSU and began a career as a party functionary, as an apparatchik quite late. He had been party leader in his home region of Sverdlovsk since 1976, and the following year he had the surviving house demolished, in the basement of which Bolsheviks had massacred the last Tsar Nicholas I and his family in 1918. In 1981 he was promoted to the Central Committee, the extended circle of power, and in the fall of 1985 he took over as head of the Moscow CPSU. From then on, Boris Yeltsin was an influential politician, because that was linked to his appointment to the Politburo, albeit without the right to vote.
In the second half of the 1980s, he pushed Gorbachev's reform policy faster than the Kremlin ruler himself wanted. In 1987, Yeltsin was relieved of his party posts and relegated to an insignificant post. He was something of an internal party dissident. In 1990 he publicly left the CPSU.
An outspoken critic of Gorbachev, Yeltsin ran and won the first election of a Russian president on June 12, 1991. But what was decisive was his hands-on behavior during the old Stalinist August coup in 1991, when he – incidentally together with his then confidant Ruzkoi and in front of the “White House” – mobilized people on the streets of Moscow.
From then on he was the strong man in Russia, officially after Gorbachev's retirement at the end of 1991. However, the success against the People's Deported Congress did nothing to change the problems. In 1996 Yeltsin was re-elected, probably by then he was already an alcoholic. But at the latest since 1997/98 he was hardly up to his tasks.
At noon on December 31, 1999, Yeltsin handed over the functions of President to Vladimir Putin, who had risen rapidly in the Kremlin apparatus within a few years and who had only been Prime Minister for a few months. What led to this decision is debatable – British Russia expert Catherine Belton believes it was a frame-up by intelligence agencies and organized crime. Yeltsin is said to have recognized himself that he had installed a tyrant. But he has not made any public statements about it.
The now ex-president lived for almost seven and a half years after his resignation, but it was more of a vegetating. His bodyguards had to carry him to an appearance at the Frankfurt Book Fair, for example; he stood stock still at the publishing stand, said a few sentences and signed a few books, only to be carried away again afterwards. It is unclear whether he was already in such a state when the decision was made to choose his successor. In the end, however, there is no doubt that the putschists, whom Yeltsin had defeated on October 4, 1993, won.
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