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he people of Russia are known worldwide for their alcohol consumption. Consistently ranking in the top 15 worldwide in terms of alcohol consumption per capita, it’s hard not to notice the close cultural tie between the Russian people and alcohol. This love for drinking transcends class boundaries, with people from the lower classes up to the leaders of the country partaking in the perhaps not-so-healthy hobby.

Although it is well known that the majority of Russians drink, most of those who hold high positions within the country’s government like to keep this fact as hidden as possible. How serious would your fellow countrymen take you if you came to an important meeting drunk? Well, there was one Russian man with a very high position within the government who disregarded this fact leading to many giving him the nickname the “Drunk Tsar.”

From dictatorship to ‘democracy’

The early 1990s present a challenge for the nation of Russia. Going through a chaotic exchange of power from the Soviet one-party system to a democratic system threw the country into disarray. Those in power before the collapse of the Soviet system did their best to cling to whatever resources they controlled before, with many coming out as millionaires due to a combination of connections, corruption, and ingenuity at the moment of the collapse.

At the helm of this ship, stuck in a violent storm, was the Russian Federation’s new president, Борис Николаевич Ельцин (Anglicised: Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin). Gaining power over the Moscow City Committee in 1985 through the help of the USSR’s then-premier Михаил Сергеевич Горбачев (Anglicised: Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev), put the ambitious politician on an upwards trajectory in the Russian political sphere.

Boris Yeltsin at the end of the 1991 coup attempt. Source: The Moscow Times

Before his rise to prominence as the Russian Federation’s first president, Yeltsin became a popular figure within the then-Soviet state. Promising a new future for the people of Russia, Yeltsin gained traction leading to his eventual election into the new position. What many of his supporters did not know at the time though, was that Yeltsin was hiding an ever-evolving alcohol habit.

A Russian’s favorite drink

President Yeltsin. Source: Wikipedia Commons

As mentioned in the intro, Russians are known for their alcohol consumption. This preference for liquor extends to even the highest echelons of Russian society, something which could not be truer for Yeltsin. Throughout his stay in power, the influential politician gained a liking for drinking, a liking that evolved into an addiction.

In the early stages of his presidency, this addiction slowly evolved, leading to the president going to state meetings inebriated and sometimes barely in a state to contribute to important discussions. This led to the president getting himself into some very embarrassing scenarios that have only been declassified and talked about recently, the most significant of which has to be the events of September 1994.

During the said month, the Russian president was on a diplomatic visit to Washington with a plan to meet then-American president Bill Clinton. On one of the nights of his stay in Washington, Yeltsin decided to get very drunk, leading to the events this article is named after.

Running down Pennsylvania Avenue

Pennsylvania Avenue. Source: Matt Wade

What ensued after Yeltsin got drunk sounds like the plot of a propaganda sketch created to weaken the leader’s image. Unfortunately, these events actually happened. After a few drinks, the Russian president decided that he really wanted a pizza. As such, while only wearing his underwear, the leader ran down Pennsylvania Avenue screaming at taxis going past to take him to a pizza place.

Eventually, the American secret service arrived bewildered by the scene before them. Once they made contact with the angry president, they were welcomed by a barrage of loud shouting about how the leader didn’t want to go back to his place of residence at the Blair hotel and wanted a pizza as soon as possible. Once convinced that he would get his pizza, Yeltsin was escorted back to the hotel room, where his food was delivered to him.

The next night a similar event took place where the leader once again tried to escape his accommodation only to be stopped by the building’s security guards, who mistook him for a drunkard. Chaos ensued, nearly leading to the president being injured due to the confusion created by the events.

Overall it is not surprising to hear about these events in retrospect. As previously mentioned, the Russian president’s alcohol habit got progressively worse the longer he stayed in power, leading to events like the ones mentioned above being very likely. It is actually surprising that we have not heard of more events of the same caliber, as it is likely that more of Yeltsin’s embarrassing moments are hidden in a government archive somewhere in Russia or America.

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