I am reading about the last days of Boris Yeltsin’s presidency and the early days of Vladimir Putin’s in Steven Lee Myers’ book “The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin”. I am looking for signs.
Yeltsin kept his decision to resign a secret, even from his wife, and informed her of it just before delivering his speech. She exclaimed “Oh my God, my wish has finally come true”. When Putin’s wife heard him give his acceptance speech, she sorrowfully lamented “My daughters and I have lost all our personal freedom”.
Yeltsin, whose health was ailing, asked his people for forgiveness after eight years of ruling them by saying “I want to ask for your forgiveness, that many of our dreams didn’t come true. That what seemed to us to be simple turned out painfully difficult. I ask forgiveness for the fact that I didn’t justify some of the hopes of those people who believed that with one stroke, one burst, one sign we could jump from the grey, stagnant, totalitarian past to a bright, rich, civilized future. I myself believed this. One burst was not enough.” Yeltsin also said that he preferred to hand over power to the new politicians at the beginning of the third millennium and preferred not to wait. Then he rode an armoured car to his house. On the way, he was contacted by President Bill Clinton. However, he said to his assistant: “I’m tired, tell him to call later”.
That took place at noon on the 31st of December 2000. At midnight, Prime Minister Putin gave his presidential speech. On his first day, he arranged a meeting with the Security Council of the Russian Federation. What did he say in his first speech? He said that there would be no change in foreign policy, but also pledged that there would be a new military policy. He said “We must develop our weapons that have been neglected recently, and solve all the social problems that our armed forces face!”
Where did Putin celebrate the New Year? He and his wife took a military plane to the capital of Dagestan, Makhachkala. From there, everyone travelled in armoured military vehicles for two and a half hours to Chechnya, until they reached the country’s second city Gudermes which is about 25 minutes from Grozny.
Grozny had been harshly and intensively bombed the night before. Putin reviewed the troops before handing out military decorations and declared “I want you to know that Russia highly appreciates what you are doing. It is not only to restore the dignity and honour of Russia, but also to protect the Union from disintegration”. Then he made a toast to everyone whilst the destruction of Grozny was completed.