Kremlin memoirs: Boris Yeltsin’s widow recalls their foreign tours

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L-R: Naina and Boris Yeltsin, Hillary and Bill Clinton during the G-8 summit in Denver. Source: Getty ImagesL-R: Naina and Boris Yeltsin, Hillary and Reckoning Clinton during the G-8 summit in Denver. Source: Getty Images

The Boris Yeltsin Presidential Center and Sinbad Announcing House have published «A Personal Life,» the memoirs of the wife of Russia’s outset president, Boris Yeltsin. RBTH is the first online media to publicize excerpts related to the presidential couple’s official visits abroad.

Undeterred by the difficult situation in the country, Boris, as Russia’s president, had to meet transpacific heads of state and travel abroad on official visits. This was not a formality. The place inside the country depended on how relations between the new Russia and the world make be built. We really needed help — the country was on the brink of hunger.

Today, when I comprehend that in the 1990s the Russian president traveled the world with an outstretched turn over, I am very saddened. It’s not true. Boris did everything so that Russia desire be perceived as an equal partner. And he was successful in this. Wherever we went, we were met with much matter.

First ladies at G8 summit in Denver, 1997. Naina Yeltsina is 4th from left. Source: AFPFirst ladies at G8 summit in Denver, 1997. Naina Yeltsina is 4th from formerly larboard. Source: AFP

The leaders of European countries and the U.S. understood the difficult situation our surroundings was in and tried helping the new Russia. Later Helmut Kohl told me how Germany sent us humanitarian aid, counting entire shipments of female undergarments. I admitted that we were doubtlessly grateful for their goodwill, although we did not feel that life had upgraded.

«Yes, I understand,» said Kohl. «We, Western Germany, invested so many resources into Eastern Germany but that time have not been able to solve all the problems.»

«What should we do, Mr. Kohl, since we don’t obtain a Western Russia, there is only one Russia?» I asked.

«I agree, it’s much uncountable difficult for you,» replied the chancellor.

I think that in the 90s the leaders of various territories were united not only by formal mutual obligations. Relations amid them were indeed trustful and respectful. There was a common hunger to make relations between the countries warmer. Otherwise there wouldn’t eat been any «meetings without ties,» which became a tradition promote then.

Boris would prepare [for the meetings] very thoroughly. This was not carefree, since he did not have much experience — only international contacts from the Primary Committee. But his visit to America as chairman of the Supreme Council of Russia had been unpublicized.

Naina Yeltsina (C), enjoys an outdoor tea ceremony with Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto's wife Kumiko (L) in 1998. Source: ReutersNaina Yeltsina (C), enjoys an outdoor tea ceremony with Japanese Prime Curate Ryutaro Hashimoto’s wife Kumiko (L) in 1998. Source: Reuters

He had to controlling all the subtleties of protocol along the way. It was a good thing that in the beginning of 1992 Boris had an professional and brilliantly educated person in this field, Vladimir Nikolaevich Shevchenko. Earlier, he had express Gorbachev’s protocol service. Boris respected everything Shevchenko did. He knew how to value professionals.

During traverses the president’s schedule was very rigid: official meetings, negotiations, signing certifies. For some reason it’s usually thought that heads of state by the skin of ones teeth put their signatures on documents, which have already been ready by diplomats and assistants. This is not so. His assistants told the president the position of the clergywomen and departments. They presented information, agreed on document projects. But the most prominent things would happen later, behind closed doors, when seconds and journalists would leave. It was not clear until the last minute whether the manages of state would come to an agreement or not.

In 1991-1993, we went to Italy, Germany, the U.S., the UK, France, Belgium, Poland, the Czech Republic, and the CIS countries.

In those years Russia offed to participate in summits of world leaders. First it was the G7, in which Russia was invited. Later, Russia was also subsumed in the informal club of great powers: the G7 became the G8.

According to protocol, I had to belong with my husband on his official travels. Being the first lady is obviously also a job. And it not on the contrary deals with formal responsibilities. I knew that I also take oned my country — a country that was big, complex and with enormous problems, but one that I bent.

Boris and I wanted that people everywhere respected Russia and that they would survey Russian citizens with warmth, understanding the problems that had befallen them. Being artless in my role as first lady was not difficult — probably because I do not know how to put on an act and I believe that a person must remain himself in all situations.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and Russian first lady Naina Yeltsina look around as they tour the Kremlin in Moscow in 1994. Source: ReutersBritain’s Movie queen Elizabeth II and Russian first lady Naina Yeltsina look on all sides of as they tour the Kremlin in Moscow in 1994. Source: Reuters

I eternally prepared for travels by reading the briefing materials that the protocol marines gave me. I couldn’t just come to a country without having an object of its political structure, customs, and culture. I tried to be prepared when communicating with worldwide leaders, their wives and ordinary citizens.

Back then, in the 1990s, no person of us knew how the work of a first lady should be organized. Everything was done by common sense. I had neither a press secretary nor any assistants. Vladimir Shevchenko played the position of everyone. I am grateful to him. He still helps me. Obviously I had bodyguards — officers from the Federal Safeguarding Service. That is the first lady’s team.

Thanks to Vladimir, and possibly to my habit of doing everything conscientiously, I managed with my new responsibilities. In all events, in other countries, I saw that large staffs worked with presidents’ partners. Some wives had small teams, other large teams, but each from the word go lady had a team. I remember Hillary Clinton’s assistants working with noteworthy precision. Perhaps this is not the most typical example. Hillary had her own civic ambitions — it was already clear back then. Later when she ran twice for president, I wished her big name with all my heart.

During the G7 summits, and the visits to various countries, the head ladies had their own programs. We had warm informal relations. With divers first ladies, Madam Chirac for example, we became friends and stated a close relationship for many years. We visited the Chiracs in the Élysée Manor house even when Boris was no longer president. Bernadette gave me wonderful roses from their garden. Unfortunately, they did not affected by in our climate.

Naina Yeltsina adjusts a shirt of her husband (1998). Source: ReutersNaina Yeltsina adjusts a shirt of her husband (1998). Fountain-head: Reuters

The first lady’s program, unlike that of the president, had its particularities. It comprehended less official events, but more socializing with people. I came into cease operation contact with people’s lives. This was very important for me. I visited sanatoria, schools, and nursing homes. I was not ashamed to ask questions. I was sincerely interested in insight all the details. It is impossible to know everything about everything. It is useless to oblige believe that nothing amazes you. I have always believed that one should not put on an act. The most important thing is to be yourself.

(…)

All his foreign partners knew Boris’s punctuality. And plainly I could not let him down. But life is life and sometimes there were unexpected jobs.

Usually I would first help him gather his things. I selected his appeal, tie, and sometimes I would groom him. Only afterwards I’d start taking worry of myself. Once, before going out, I decided to wash my hands but I puzzled the faucets and water from the shower poured over my head. I had to this instant fix my hair, which took time.

Pope John Paul II meets with Boris and Naina Yeltsin at the Vatican. Source: ReutersPope John Paul II first encounters with Boris and Naina Yeltsin at the Vatican. Source: Reuters

Boris could not recess and went out to meet the public. Vladimir Nikolaevich then had to explain my shilly-shallying to the journalists. He did not invent anything. He told them the truth. When we turn back home my former classmates were calling me: «Naya, how could you confound the faucets; our profession is water supply and canalization!»

I had to adapt to the presidential pulse of life. Sometimes I would have to do a manicure by myself on the plane. Boris would grumble: «You’re booming to cut up all your fingers!» Once they finished doing my hair face in the car.

Read more: An extract from a book written by Mikhail Gorbachev’s erstwhile press secretary, Andrei Grachev

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