Sunday, Aug. 10, 2003

Moscow, Russia: 1991

On the streets outside the White House there were tanks and armored vehicles, but there were also thousands of people who had come to defend us.

I had to stop the armor from moving on the crowds. I drew up a decree declaring the plot illegal and took it outside to the first tank. My security men grabbed my arm and told me that the soldiers would destroy me. I said, ‘No, they will not shoot the President.’

I climbed up on the tank and read the decree, then talked to the soldiers. They said they were carrying out orders. I said, ‘Here is an order then: take your equipment and go back to base.’

I outsmarted the coup plotters. I told them to go to the Crimea and talk to Gorbachev. Five minutes after their plane left, another one followed with special forces. The plotters were in handcuffs within minutes of arriving.

Since then it has not been easy. Transitions from a planned economy never are. I cannot say everyone now lives better. But we introduced freedom of speech, a democratic constitution, a market economy.

I am confident that this country will one day be prosperous and powerful.

Boris Yeltsin is the former President of Russia