The Russian problem did not begin with Putin. Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin was the first freely elected President of the Russian Federation; he served from 1991 to 1999. Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin took office in 2000. Yeltsin, a former Soviet politician, is credited with ending the Soviet Union and Communist dominance in Russia.
Among his accomplishments, he eliminated most price controls, privatized major state assets, introduced ownership of private property and embraced free market principles. A stock exchange, commodities exchanges and private banks all came into being. But although a select few oligarchs became shockingly wealthy, many Russians fell deeper into poverty due to rampant inflation and the rising cost of living.
Yeltsin began treating himself to some of the perks, typical of many corrupt Russian leaders.
He did, however, support freedom of the press and public criticism. He allowed Western popular culture seep into the country. Yeltsin disbanded the communist-dominated parliament in September 1993 and called for elections to a new legislature. He then resolved the ensuing standoff by ordering tanks to shell the parliamentary building. The following year Yeltsin sent troops into the breakaway republic of Chechnya, an action that left roughly 80,000 people dead—the majority of them civilians. Though the fighting ceased in August 1996, it picked back up again in 1999 and lasted most of the next decade.
Health problems and heavy drinking, contributed to multiple heart attacks. In 1996 he nonetheless ran and won a second term that was fraught with corruption and health issues.
In August 1998 the ruble collapsed and Russia defaulted on its treasury bills. Soon after, the economy finally turned around with the help of rising oil prices. In December 1999, under internal pressure, Yeltsin announced his resignation, leaving the presidency in the hands of his chosen successor, then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Yeltsin died in 2007 from heart failure.