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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Insiders Author 'Epoch' Book

"If a leader, a president, begins to put pressure on the free press — the leader is weak."

This line may be timely but it was delivered nearly nine years ago — by former President Boris Yeltsin in a meeting with the heads of major media outlets.

It's included in a new book, "The Yeltsin Epoch," written by nine former Yeltsin aides and speechwriters.

Compare that quote to one he uttered earlier, in the mid-1980s, when he was the head of the Communist Party in the Sverdlovsk region. Then, Yeltsin said that a man in his position had the right to forbid the production of any play, the showing of any movie or the publishing of any book if it didn't match the ideological goals of the party, according to the authors.

Like the country, the book shows just how much Yeltsin changed in such a short period of time.

Despite the title, the 800-page book is not a biography of Yeltsin, but a history of Russia during his rise and fall from power. It begins in his native Sverdlovsk, now Yekaterinburg, and runs through his unexpected resignation on Dec. 31, 1999.

The transformation of Yeltsin from a Communist Party boss to the leader of non-communist Russia, and his and his country's attempts to adjust to a new world changing at a dizzying pace is the main focus of the book.

With much already written about Russia's first president, including three volumes of Yeltsin's own memoirs, the book offers a fresh view from inside the Kremlin, but somewhere outside Yeltsin's office.

And although the authors fail to reveal much that hasn't been printed before, there are several passages that aren't well known — some humorous, some sad.

The authors write, for instance, that Yeltsin's pre-presidential battles with the Communist Party leadership — including Mikhail Gorbachev — became so traumatic for him that on Nov. 9, 1987, he tried to kill himself. The authors mention this episode in a single paragraph, without detail, save that neither Yeltsin nor Gorbachev would talk about it.

On a lighter note, and illustrative of the frenzied fracas surrounding the Supreme Soviet, the authors remind the reader of how a mere typo resulted in the renaming of the country from the Russian Soviet Federalist Socialist Republic to the Russian Federation.

On Dec. 25, 1991, the Supreme Soviet was debating the ratification of an agreement on managing nuclear weapons with former Soviet republics.

During the debate, one of the deputies pointed out that the document listed Yeltsin not as the president of the Russian Soviet Federalist Socialist Republic — the official name of the country at the time — but simply the president of the Russian Federation. This mistake could have technically invalidated the whole document.

Supreme Soviet Chairman Ruslan Khasbulatov, however, was quick to solve the problem by offering the deputies a chance to immediately vote on renaming the country. In the excitement, the proposal was approved and the country was instantly renamed.

In another passage, the authors note that one of the first tasks given presidential security chief Alexander Korzhakov was to collect jokes that people were telling about Yeltsin — apparently to keep him safe.

The book also attempts to dispel the myth about Yeltsin's uncanny ability to make unusual and inventive decisions that were later considered to be wise. Yeltsin himself liked the legend so much that in later years he acquired a firm belief in it. He was known to sit and wait for some kind of "enlightenment" in difficult situations. But in reality the disappearances were a sign that the president simply did not know what to do, the authors contend.

Surprisingly, the retired president's notorious struggle with alcoholism is mentioned rarely, as is his vanity.

Yeltsin paid huge attention to his hair-style, the authors write. But the glorious hairdo came at a price — he used to spend an hour with a hairdresser before any public appearance. The habit became so much a part of the presidential routine that it actually backfired on Yeltsin a few times.

It became news and cause for speculation on the rare occasions when his hair did not look as tidy as usual.

"The Yeltsin Epoch," or Epokha Yeltsina, is published by Vagrius. The list of authors includes Georgy Satarov, Mikhail Krasnov, Vyacheslav Kostikov, Yury Baturin, Alexander Livshits, Lyudmila Pikhoya, Alexander Ilyin, Vladimir Kadatsky and Konstantin Nikiforov.