The Best of Boris

A look at Boris Yeltsin at his most bizarre and unpredictable

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Has anyone been paying attention to Boris Yeltsin recently? He stumbles around, he mumbles incoherently, he spontaneously decides to fire his whole cabinet. He’s stood up important world leaders, from Japan’s foreign minister to the U.S. treasury secretary to Ireland’s prime minister. And just this month, he left the hospital where he was being treated for pneumonia, went to the Kremlin, fired some people, drank some tea, and checked himself back into the hospital—all within three hours.

Is this comedy—or horror? (Question: Do you think Yelstin’s generals still give him control over nuclear weapons?) In the interest of the public good (and a good laugh), we offer this compendium of the best of Boris:

  • Reason Yeltsin gave, in August, why Russians shouldn’t panic about their economy: “There will be no devaluation of the ruble…. We’ve made the calculations and figured it out. That’s my job and I’m on top of things”

  • Number of days between Yeltsin’s assurance that the ruble would not be devalued and its devaluation: 3

  • Worst performance as M.C.: At a 1994 celebration in Berlin honoring the departure of the last Russian troops from Germany, Yeltsin stumbled around after the champagne lunch, blew kisses to the crowd, grabbed a microphone and started singing

  • Best reason for Canadians to dislike Yeltsin: He said Prime Minister Jean Chretien was “whining” when Chretien brought up a Canadian company’s dispute with Aeroflot, the Russian airline, during a visit in October 1997

  • One of the reasons Yeltsin gave for dismissing his entire cabinet in March: “The country needs a new team”

  • Number of months between firing Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and attempting to reinstate him: 5 months

  • Lamest excuse for bailing on a state visit: “I only have enough food with me for two days,” Yeltsin offered, declining Chinese President Jiang Zemin’s invitation to extend his November 1997 visit

  • Most inappropriate toast at a social function: When Yeltsin declared his “boundless love” for “Italian women” at a banquet with the Pope

  • Biggest diss of a foreign leader: Yeltsin “overslept” while his plane was refueling in Shannon, Ireland in 1994, missing a scheduled meeting with Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds

  • Best reason to stay on vacation: In August, Yeltsin explained to the press that if he returned to the Kremlin to deal with Russia’s economic turmoil, people could think that “a catastrophe has occured, everything is completely falling apart there”

  • Yeltsin’s age: 67 years

  • Average male life expectancy in Russia: 57.7 years
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