. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin: Dim View From Metro Crowd

YEKATERINBURG, Ural Mountains -- Outside the metro station on 1905 Square, a small crowd waited impatiently. A few had come to see President Boris Yeltsin, visiting his home city Thursday for the first time in four years. But most simply wanted to get on the metro.


The sign at the entrance read, "Closed for technical reasons," but the police cordon and the presence of black-fatigued marksmen told a different story: The president was taking a rare ride on public transport.


For Yeltsin, this was a chance to check the progress on a project -- to build a subway -- he had started more than 10 years ago, when he was the regional Communist Party chief. But for the inhabitants of Yekaterinburg, it was an inconvenience.


"I didn't come here for any spectacle," a woman's voice wailed from the back of the crowd. "I just need to pick up my child from school. How long will this take?"


Others were more blunt. A tall bearded man carrying a sack over his shoulder threw his load down on the icy ground in disgust.


"Bastards," he said. "Bastards."


Even those who had come to see Yeltsin were disappointed.


When the president finally emerged 40 minutes later, it was from the exit on the other side of the street, well away from the public and surrounded by security men and members of his entourage. He was quickly hustled into a ZiL and with a dazzle of flashing red and blue lights his motorcade sped away.


Across the square the rather feeble chants, "Shame, shame," from a group of about 10 red flag-waving extremist communists petered out. The metro re-opened and normal life resumed.


It was about as close as Yeltsin got to the real public during a carefully stage-managed program.


At the memorial to Marshal Georgy Zhukov, he met a group of World War II veterans, all of whom, according to presidential press secretary Sergei Medvedev, expressed warm support for the president. It was worth it. Yeltsin offered them 5 billion rubles ($1.05 million) for their hospital for war invalids.


There was the same warm reception from those allowed through the cordon at the Black Tulip memorial for Afghan veterans and at the Konfy confectionery factory, where the middle level of pay is 1.2 million rubles a month, more than twice the average for Sverdlovsk region. They, too, benefited from the visit, receiving a donation of 10 billion rubles for their baby food production line.


"It's all a matter of how much people ask," Yeltsin explained in an aside directed at Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel during his election declaration speech later in the day. "They asked for only 10 billion and I said yes. You want 500 billion and I am telling you, 'No.'"


Rossel, red-faced, soon recovered his composure.


Yeltsin was not the only member of the presidential entourage to speak his mind. Nuclear Power Minister Viktor Mikhailov gave journalists awaiting Yeltsin at the Palace of Youth his ideas about how to respond to NATO expansion.


"The plan to expand NATO eastward means that one day there will be tactical nuclear weapons sited in countries like the Czech Republic," he said.


"Inasmuch as I am responsible for Russia's nuclear security, I would have to take measures. And these would be very simple. We would do all we could to ensure that those sites did not exist -- and that means they will simply be destroyed."


I have decided to run for the post of president of Russia and I am announcing it here in this auditorium that is so dear to me, in my native city.


You remember that in August 1991 it seemed to us that the most difficult period was behind us. People straightened their shoulders, breathing in the air of freedom and hope. We believed that prosperity and well-being would come soon. But this was only the beginning of great change.


We started the transformations in unfavorable circumstances ... The country was on the brink of famine. We have all too quickly forgotten that people were standing in long queues for bread, sugar and other foodstuffs in 1991. People started queuing up the night before and burned campfires to keep themselves warm during the night. The system for which some people are pining today has totally exhausted itself. That is why we decided and had to decide to introduce radical economic measures in the beginning of 1992.


I remember how I came to the Sverdlovsk region in 1992. So many demands were made at that time, demands to act faster, more rigidly, tougher. And that was the same throughout Russia. Everybody wanted to get rid of the past as quickly as possible. I even had to restrain this.


Of course, I made mistakes. It was particularly bitter when I made mistakes in my assessment of people. God alone knows how many deep scars there are on my heart as a result of the departure of recent associates.


What have we reached over all these years? Based on free market prices and public initiative, we are building a modern market, trade and finance infrastructure in the country. A new generation of financiers, bankers, managers and specialists in the sphere of services and other areas is growing. Many of them are as bright as their counterparts from major Western countries.


We have managed to curb inflation. Do you remember how rapidly prices were growing two or three years ago? It was impossible to catch up with them. They devoured all savings. Prices still soar, but more slowly.


I understand that this problem has not been fully resolved yet, the price problem. But prices are only part of the problem. Our children and grandchildren do not know what a shortage of goods is, what food coupons or blat [the use of insider connections to obtain goods and services] are. They do not know long queues.


The rate of the ruble against hard currencies has been stabilized. Instead of an empty treasury bequeathed to us by the Union leadership, plus debts to foreign states in an amount of $87 billion, we now have a reserve of $13 billion in gold and hard currency. This insures for us a strategic margin of strength. We have overcome our isolation from the latest technological achievements of developed countries. We have what [we need] to trade with.


For the first time in decades there are no political prisoners in Russia. No one is sent to jail, expelled from the country or stripped of citizenship for his political, religious or ideological views. Anyone can leave the country and come back.


The mass media have become genuinely free. Nothing can be easier now than to criticize the president ... Do you ever remember that the head of state was criticized in Russia? ... And now as soon as you lose your temper ... But that's okay by me. One is insulted, sometimes lies are told about you and rumors. Such things happen.


Today political freedoms are taken for granted as something that is necessary and immutable. But how tenuous is the line that separates us from the suffocating yesterday! Many people tend to see the recent past in rosy colors.


People are not being paid their wages for months on end while the money is being recycled through banks. By decision of the council of a joint-stock company its director is set a salary of 30 million rubles a month. This is happening in your city. And he has the cheek to collect this salary. But at the same time the working class is not paid anything at all for two months. What is this?


After my departure he should be immediately sacked. That is final.


I realize that it will be far from easy to fulfill all the plans. But what worries me most of all is the absence so far of firm guarantees of the irreversibility of the changes that are taking place. There is no guarantee that five years from now new presidential elections will be held. Russia is again at a crossroads.


The opposition leaders are themselves in the bondage of dogmas which life has rejected. They continue to believe that history can be reversed. We will be a nation without memory if we elect a candidate who will launch a new redivision of power and especially property.


At these elections, not only I, but the whole of Russia will lie on the railway tracks and we must do everything possible so that we, Russians, and our country do not perish under the red wheel of the past ...


Thank you. (Applause).