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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The President's Other Campaign Team

Boris Yeltsin must put his re-election as president down to a myriad of reasons, but as he recovers his strength after a draining campaign he may reflect that this was a victory that began at home.


Literally. For the 65-year-old grandfather, whose opinion rating was wallowing in wingle figures at Christmas, owes some of the dramatic turnaround to the unprecedented efforts of his wife, Naina, and younger daughter turned image-maker, Tatyana.


Yeltsin repeatedly referred to his family's future as he campaigned against a return to the communist past. He produced a line of smiling grandchildren -- he has four -- at his final big rally in his home town of Yekaterinburg last month.


But the women in the life of Russia's best-known muzhik, or hard-drinking macho man, also played a more active role, softening the image of a leader millions had seen slide from bold liberal hero to sick and bloodstained Kremlin warlord.


Significantly, it was Naina who gave the first interview after the election, with Yeltsin out of sight with what she said was a sore throat. In homely style she recounted the pride the family took in his win but added he really had to get some rest.


"He's not a superman, he's a man like everyone else," the first lady told NTV Independent Television. "Now he needs a bit of rest, of course, and he has said he'd take a week or two after the campaign."


Naina, 64, said she did not want him to run after his two heart attacks last year. But, resigned to it, she stepped out of his shadow to portray him as a hardworking man of the people who liked nothing better than to play with his grandchildren. "Only Glebushka, our 9-month-old grandson, can distract him'' from work, she said.


Little details -- her recipe for his favorite cake, her need to knot his tie for him every morning -- countered images of a distant latter-day tsar who sent out artillery to raze Chechen villages and drove the country to economic ruin.


Well coiffed and coutured but distinctly more grandmotherly than Raisa Gorbachev, Naina was infinitely more popular with Russians than her too-glamorous predecessor. They could identify with Naina's housewifely warnings about a return to Soviet-style queues and bare shelves in the shops.


But her younger daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko, a mathematician and mother of two, may have played a bigger, if less public, role in Yeltsin's victory. She joined Yeltsin's campaign team in February and immediately drew comparisons with Claude Chirac, who softened her father Jacques' image, helping to bring him back from the political wilderness and win the French presidency a year ago.


Blonde and businesslike, Tatyana, 36, seems very much of the same stamp as Chirac's daughter, four years her junior.


Tatyana, regularly seen putting a comb through the president's trademark dome of silver hair, took the hard edges off Yeltsin's overwhelmingly male court.


On one campaign stop, she told his bodyguards to take off their sunglasses, complaining they looked like thugs. Last month she was credited with helping persuade Yeltsin to purge hardline aides, including his loyal chief bodyguard, Alexander Korzhakov.


Her importance was underlined when she was one of four aides who appeared with Yeltsin in television footage shot last Friday to dispel rumors his disappearance was due to serious illness.