Gorbachev’s promised reforms began to falter, and he soon had a formidable political opponent agitating for even more radical restructuring. Boris Yeltsin, president of the Russian SSR, began challenging the authority of the federal government and resigned from the Communist Party along with other dissenters in 1990. On Aug. 29, 1991, an attempted coup d’état against Gorbachev was orchestrated by a group of hard-liners. Yeltsin’s defiant actions during the coup—he barricaded himself in the Russian parliament and called for national strikes—resulted in Gorbachev’s reinstatement. But from then on, power had effectively shifted from Gorbachev to Yeltsin and away from centralized power to greater power for the individual Soviet republics. In his last months as the head of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev dissolved the Communist Party and proposed the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which, when implemented, gave most of the Soviet Socialist Republics their independence, binding them together in a loose, primarily economic federation. Russia and ten other former Soviet republics joined the CIS on Dec. 21, 1991. Gorbachev resigned on Dec. 25, and Yeltsin, who had been the driving force behind the Soviet dissolution, became president of the newly established Russian Republic.
At the start of 1992, Russia embarked on a series of dramatic economic reforms, including the freeing of prices on most goods, which led to an immediate downturn. A national referendum on confidence in Yeltsin and his economic program took place in April 1993. To the surprise of many, the president and his shock-therapy program won by a resounding margin. In September, Yeltsin dissolved the legislative bodies left over from the Soviet era.
The president of the southern republic of Chechnya accelerated his region’s drive for independence in 1994. In December, Russian troops closed the borders and sought to squelch the independence drive. The Russian military forces met firm and costly resistance. In May 1997, the two-year war formally ended with the signing of a peace treaty that adroitly avoided the issue of Chechen independence.
Windows to Russia…