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Russia in the 21st Century

What kind of Russia did Yeltsin’s successor Vladimir Putin inherit?

January 6, 2000

What kind of Russia did Yeltsin's successor Vladimir Putin inherit?

On the last day of the 20th century, Russian President Boris Yeltsin announced his resignation — six months before the expiration of his second term. The following selection of quotes provides a sketch of the Russia inherited by Yeltsin’s successor, Vladimir Putin.

Putin's challenge: Overcoming Dostoyevsky …

"The Russian is not only incapable of accumulating capital. He is a persistent and helpless squanderer."
(Fyodor Dostoyevsky, in his novel "The Gambler")

… and embracing Clinton

"A country that rebuffed Napoleon and Hitler can surely adjust to the realities of the global marketplace."
(U.S. President Bill Clinton)

On the Russian economy

"You think the ruble is worthless now? Wait until they get finished with it."
(Russian citizen, on Yeltsin's economic reforms)

"The IMF is more socialist than we are."
(Russian Economics Ministry official, on IMF insistence that Russia raise taxes)

"The IMF was pretending that it was seeing a lot of reforms in Russia. Russia was pretending to conduct reforms. The Western taxpayer was paying for it."
(Boris Fyodorov, former Finance Minister)

"What the IMF learned in Russia is that you can look pretty foolish if you mail the check — and then the legislature rejects the reforms."
(IMF Deputy Managing Director Stanley Fischer, on the Russian financial crisis in 1998)

"I think all of us need to understand always that we can't want reform and stability in a country more than its people and its government."
(Lawrence Summers, then- U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary)

"For political reasons, the West periodically tosses money at us. The main idea is to keep us quiet and non-threatening."
(Former Russian Finance Minister Boris Fyodorov)

"We have to admit that Russia did not profit from our advice to liberalize as quickly as possible. We also share responsibility for what has happened in Russia."
(Deutsche Bank CEO Rolf-Ernst Breuer, on the role of Western financial institutions)

“Our government is like a brothel. Once you enter, it’s very difficult to say you called in for a cup of tea.”
(Grigory Yavlinksky, leader in the Russian Duma, on corruption in the Russian government)

"After 70 years, you can't be free all at once."
(Russian citizen, on the sense of personal freedom following the demise of the Soviet Union)

“Russia will not soon become, if it ever becomes, a second copy of the United States or England — where liberal values have deep historic roots.”
(Vladimir Putin, Boris Yeltsin’s successor as president of Russia)

"Some of them are rich — and it would be nice if they could invest in our economy as Chinese emigrants are investing in China's."
(Then-Premier Sergei Stepashin, on meeting Russian immigrants in the United States during his July 1999 visit)

"Never forget: There are still 50 million women out there who don't shave their legs."
(U.S. business executive, on the size of the Russia market for Western goods)

Boris Yeltsin: Signing off

"In a moral sense, we are above America."
( Boris Yeltsin, on Russia's decision not to support NATO's attack on Serbia)

"Why are they not afraid of us? We have not stopped anything!"
(Boris Yeltsin, on NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia despite Russian protests)

"We have been driven into a corner because the president cannot do anything and does not understand what should be done — while others cannot make a decision without him."
(Former Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, on President Yeltsin)

"He is like a small czar. He sits in his chair, and you can never push him out."
(Russian factory worker, on President Yeltsin)

"It has never been the case, and will not be the case, that he alone dictates to the world how to live, how to work, how to rest and so on."
(Boris Yeltsin, on the leadership of U.S. President Bill Clinton)

"Yesterday, Clinton permitted himself to put pressure on Russia. It seems he has for a minute, for a second, for half a minute, forgotten that Russia has a full arsenal of nuclear weapons."
(Boris Yeltsin, on U.S. criticism of Russia's bombing of Chechnya)