Boris Yeltsin: Not Your Average Statesman

Michael Samojeden / REUTERS

CREST OF A WAVE: Yeltsin greets demonstrators during the failed coup of 1991

Boris Yeltsin was a man for the unforgettable surprise. His fame rested on the panache and fortitude he showed in August 1991 when plotters attempted a coup d'état against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. They reckoned without Yeltsin, then head of the Russian Soviet Republic. Clambering on top of a tank outside the Russian White House, he defied those who wanted to return Russia to its communist traditions. Their coup might have succeeded if they had put him under preventive arrest. Instead, Yeltsin emerged as the master of the political situation. Gorbachev came back from detention in Crimea to find that his...

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