The first and the last Soviet president is Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev. He made his career as a Soviet functionary from a First Secretary of Stavropol City Committee of Komsomol (1955-1958) to the General Secretary of the Communist Party (1985-1991). At the same time he served as Deputy Chairman of the Supreme Soviet (1970-1990) and acted as Chairman for the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Soviet of the Union in 1984-85. From 1985 to 1990 he was a Member in the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, and in 1989 he became its President. He served as President of the USSR in 1990-1991.
Gorbachev was always true to the idea of "building socialism" by reforming the Soviet reality. He still stands for "democratic socialism" or "socialism with a human face". He defended the idea of humanity in International and in Russian politics and played his role in the destruction of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the former Soviet Union. Gorbachev currently heads the Gorbachev Foundation (since 1992), Green Cross International (since 1993), and the Civic Forum movement (since April 1996).
Boris Nikolaevich Yeltsin successfully won a political rivalry with Gorbachev and became the first Russian President. His career started as engineering: construction unit chief - chief engineer of a construction division - chief engineer of an integrated plant. In 1961 he joined the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and became chief of a housing construction integrated plant with thousands of people under his command. His career in the Communist Party administrative apparatus led him from the Chief of the Construction Department of Sverdlovsk Region Committee of the CPSU (1969) to the First Secretary of Moscow City Committee of the CPSU (1985). There he sharply criticized the slow pace of reforms held by the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the CPSU and after the plenary meeting of October 1987 lost his positions on the Moscow City Committee and the Politburo. The following year Yeltsin was appointed First Vice Chairman of the State Committee on Construction, minister of the USSR and resurrected his image as an oppositionist of the government. That made him popular, his political growth continued. On May 1990 Yeltsin was elected speaker of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR). Since then he represented Russian Republic opposition to the Soviet Union. Under his influence, on June 12, 1990, Congress of People's Deputies of the RSFSR adopted the Declaration of Sovereignty of the RSFSR. June 12 is presently celebrated in Russia as its Independence Day. In July, Yeltsin quit the Communist Party.
In the first democratic presidential elections in Russia held on June 12, 1991, he became the first Russian President. In august there came a crisis in the Soviet State. While Gorbachev, Yeltsin and Nursultan Nazarbayev (president of Kazakhstan) were going to sign the Union Treaty and replace some of the leading Soviet officials, these officials carried out a plot, planning to retreat from the reformation course. Communist coup plotters headed by Kryuchkov announced the takeover of Gorbachev's presidential powers by Vice President Gennady Yanayev. Boris Yeltsin called for resistance. The White House of Russia, located in Moscow was surrounded by the troops summoned by the coup leaders. Thousands of citizens came to defend the building. Yeltsin delivered a public speech, standing on top of a tank; the command for the storm wasn't given. The coup failed. Gorbachev returned to Moscow from Crimea were he was taken under arrest at the beginning of the events. In December the Soviet Republics declared their independence, President Gorbachev resigned and The Soviet Union ceased to exist.
Life in Russia didn't become much better after that, and the country went through difficult economical experiments that affected the failure of the President's popularity. Congress of People's Deputies of Russia attempted to impeach President Yeltsin on March 26, 1993. In violation of the Constitution, he disbanded the Supreme Soviet and Congress of People's Deputies by his decree of September 21, 1993. The president's parliamentary opposition kept control over the White House of Russia, Yeltsin's Vice President, General Alexander Rutskoi was proclaimed the new president and an attempt of a take-over was held. Tanks and troops were involved again and this time 123, not 3 people died. On December 12, 1993 a new Constitution was taken in the course of the parliamentary elections and a referendum. Presidential powers significantly increased. On December 11, 1994 Yeltsin sent Russian troops to Chechnya in an attempt to crush the three-year-old Chechen independence bid. The Chechen war started.
By the time of the next presidential elections the situation in the country was troublesome: living standards and GDP falling, prices, unemployment and crimes were increasing. The President's health was obviously bad - he suffered two heart attacks. The Duma elections of December 1995 showed that Communist sympathies were growing. In June Yeltsin was chosen again to be President for the next four years. This victory over his main rival, the communist leader Gennadiy Zyuganov, seemed incredible for many people and has been the subject of some debate. The most evident conclusion is that timely negotiations and agreements with some political leaders were held and the according mass media promulgation (later called black PR) was expanded. Yeltsin struggled for his power as long as he could, even when it seemed to be impossible.
In the last years of his reign, Boris Yeltsin changed several Prime ministers - Chernomyrdin, Stepachin, until he appointed Vladimir Putin on this post. On the last day of the 20th century, Boris Yeltsin resigned and appointed Putin as acting President.
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin studied law at the State University in St. Petersburg. From 1975 to 1990 he worked in the KGB's foreign intelligence service, mainly in Germany. After that he became Sobchak's (the mayor of St Petersburg), head of external relations and then served as deputy mayor from March 1994. In 1996 deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais recommended Putin for a job in the presidential administration. There he became a deputy chief-of-staff, then, in July 1998, - a chief of the Federal Security Bureau (FSB), then - a head of the powerful Security Council. In August 1999 he made his last step towards the presidential post, as he became Russia's Prime minister.
The Presidential elections on March 26, 2000 saw Vladimir Putin; approved by the previous President, receive 52.94 percent of all votes. The inauguration took place on May 7, 2000. Unlike Yeltsin, Putin has rather been a "gray cardinal" rather than a charismatic leader. However this new image of an undemonstrative but forceful president has turned out to be popular. Furthermore he has proved to be an excellent speaker. Vladimir Putin has a good reputation in the country and on the international scene.