Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Tells Nation to Stay Course On Reform

Grim-faced and determined, President Boris Yeltsin set out the achievements of his five years in office in his annual state of the nation address to parliament Friday, appealing four months before presidential elections for continuity and warning against turning back the clock.

In the 50-minute address to the State Duma and Federation Council, shown live on television nationwide, Yeltsin made no direct reference to the Communist Party, seen as the greatest obstacle to his winning another four years in office. Instead, he issued a clear appeal to the electorate to keep faith with the reform process he had started for the sake of better times ahead.

"No matter who comes to power in the presidential elections, he will have to remember that the ultimate goal of the leader of the country is to strengthen Russia's freedom and democracy," he said. "We should remember that this is perhaps our last chance to break the vicious circle and make Russia's movement toward democracy and normal and prosperous life irreversible."

In 1991, Yeltsin said, Russia had been on the brink of economic catastrophe and bankruptcy, threatened by disintegration, civil war and chaos. But the crisis had been averted and the country stood at the threshold of a market economy, with rights and freedoms assured for all and the groundwork laid for constitutional statehood.

The address covered much the same ground as his decla Hall of the Kremlin was by contrast wooden and emotionless. Yeltsin looked fit and businesslike, but was clearly aware that this time he was not preaching to the converted. There were no jokes or asides during the address. His audience heard him out politely and gave measured applause at the end.

On the podium behind the president, Federation Council chairman Yegor Stroyev listened stone-faced, while his State Duma counterpart Gennady Seleznyov, a senior member of the Communist Party, seemed irritated and impatient, shifting in his seat and drumming his fingers on the desk.

Opposition reaction ranged from critical to lukewarm; a number of leaders said the speech contained nothing new.

Yeltsin, 65, conceded that his government had made mistakes. It had underestimated the scale of the crisis in Russia and failed to establish proper links to the people, and to protect their social and economic rights.

"We have come to that very dangerous point, beyond which fatigue and discontent may outweigh perseverance and hope among the people. What we need is a socially acceptable tactic of reform," he said, adding that he would have no hesitation in replacing the government if it failed to achieve this.

"The government will either carry out its duty to defend the social and economic rights of the people or this will be done by another government," Yeltsin declared.

At the same time, Yeltsin set out a tough economic program for the current year, pledging to curb inflation, modernize industry and bring about major land reforms. He reiterated a pledge to provide partial compensation for people's savings, rendered worthless during the hyperinflation of 1992 and 1993. He called for special efforts to crack down on crime and corruption, including the adoption of a tougher Criminal Code.

Yeltsin opened his address with greetings to the army and defense industries, which Friday celebrated their official holiday, the Day of the Defenders of the Fatherland. In what appeared to be a rebuke to Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, he disagreed with senior armed forces figures who maintain that military reforms have been successful.

"How can one possibly talk about success if the armed forces lack attention from the government, if their most elementary needs are often ignored?"

Turning to Chechnya, he reaffirmed his willingness to negotiate with "any political forces interested in the establishment of peace" but he ruled out talks with rebel leader Dzhokhar Dudayev. "We will not make a deal with bandits behind the backs of the legitimate government of Chechnya. We are ready for compromises on the question of the status of Chechnya within Russia, but not to the detriment of the security of it citizens," he said.

Reaction to the speech from opposition figures varied from the cool to the scathing. Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov said the address was more of a ritual than an election statement. "It is distinguished first of all by populism and the absence of elementary logic," he said and went on to note that the positive notes in the speech were " a carbon copy of our documents that have been in existence for a good two years."

"As to the actual language, I regret to say that there is no longer anyone in the president's entourage with a real command of our rich Russian language. You can read the speech and see for yourself; it does not even remotely resemble good Russian," Zyuganov said.

Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of the Yabloko bloc and Yeltsin's main reformist rival in the presidential campaign, said Yeltsin had failed to provide an answer to any of the country's main problems. "The president's message will have touched no one, nor even interested anyone, because there was nothing new in it," Interfax quoted him as saying.

Human rights campaigner Sergei Kovalyov described the speech as "a cocktail of populist slogans, very good points and untruths," according to Interfax.

Some of the warmest praise for the speech came from the ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who paid tribute to the president for what he called "new priorities in his relationship to ministers, to corruption, to crime, to economic problems, and to democracy and a tough line has really been taken.

"We support this, but one has to be even tougher," Zhirinovsky said.

He praised Yeltsin for "directly naming the guilty" in fields such as economics and "propaganda," singling out last week's dismissal of the independent minded Oleg Poptsov, who was head of Russian Television.

"I have one criticism [of the president]. He's too kind, too obliging, and too easy to control," Zhirinovsky said.

Esteemed members of the Federation Council, esteemed deputies of the State Duma, esteemed fellow countrymen, the citizens of Russia. I am glad to greet you on this momentous day when we honor the defenders of the fatherland ...

The question that citizens of the country are asking themselves and which, I believe, should be answered today in this hall is as follows: What has been done in the course of the four years of reforms?

First of all, the disintegration of Russia was prevented. The approaching chaos was stopped. The specter of civil war was eliminated. Secondly, the constitutional groundwork of the Russian state was laid ... Thirdly, movement has been started toward the creation of a genuinely federative arrangement of the state, toward ensuring a worthy role for the Russian Federation in the world community. Fourthly, the groundwork of the market economy was laid ...

What we need is a socially acceptable tactic of reform. The task is to develop the market while cutting down the social costs of that process, but cut them down in a way that would not undercut reform itself ... In pursuing our social policy, we are acting passively, trailing behind developments, and often reacting only to the open manifestations of social discontent ...

But whatever difficulties the country may experience, its citizens have gained freedom. Russia has actually become an open state ... In 1991 the country was in the dead end of a systemic crisis, now it is living through a crisis of the emergence of the new market system which possesses a huge potential for development.

We all know how painful the transition to the new market order was for Russia. The life of most people is still very hard. Many Russian enterprises are living through a crisis and are not coping with the situation. But one cannot help noticing something else as well -- the decline of inflation and the slowdown in the growth of prices ...

We have made significant progress in ensuring the political rights and freedoms of citizens, but the situation is much worse with ... social and economic rights.

The key aim of 1996 is to eliminate this shameful distortion ... I am referring first of all to the government. Either it succeeds in achieving the tasks set before it, the tasks of protecting the social and economic rights of the people, or this can be done by another government ...

As early as 1996, it is planned to give partial compensation for the lost savings of households. The government knows how to do it and has a well-thought-out mechanism for that ...The fight against crime remains on the agenda, primarily against those kinds of crime that constitute encroachments on the lives and health of the public ...

Now a few words about military reform. First of all I would like to say that I do not agree with some of the army leaders who say that reform in the army has been successful. That is not true. How can one possibly talk about success if the armed forces lack attention from the government, if their most elementary needs are often ignored ...

One of the most painful problems facing our society is the situation in Chechnya ... We are ready to negotiate with any political forces interested in the establishment of peace in Chechnya. But we will not make a deal with bandits behind the backs of the legitimate government of Chechnya. We are ready for compromises on the question of the status of Chechnya within Russia, but not to the detriment of the security of its citizens.

Today the government and public commissions which I set up under my decree presented me with a synopsis of ... proposals ...They will provide a basis for a decision on the settlement of the Chechen problem ...

Very important tests are ahead. It is important that we all understand that freedom and democracy are not someone's whim ... No matter who comes to power in the upcoming presidential elections, he will have to remember that the ultimate goal of the leader of the country is to strengthen Russia's freedom and democracy. The task of the entire government and each of its representatives, including every deputy, is to make that process less painful for society ...

Let future generations see the results and achievements of our work. Only then will we fulfill our duty and only then will we live up to the historic responsibility that we bear ...