Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin had a strange relationship to say the least. At one point, the Russian president presented the US president with a pair of hockey jerseys with the inscriptions “Yeltsin 96” and “Clinton 96”. At a joint news conference, Clinton nearly fell on her feet laughing after Yeltsin said the American press was “a disaster.”
However, perhaps the most unusual incident in their professional relationship was when Boris Yeltsin got drunk and hit the streets of Washington in his underwear, looking for pizza.
This happened during the two presidents’ first meeting in Washington, DC, in September 1994. Although there have long been rumors about what happened to Yeltsin, the incident was not fully reported until 2009, when author Taylor Branch published his book “The Clinton Tapes”, based on interviews with the US president.
“Secret service agents discovered Yeltsin, alone on Pennsylvania Boulevard, dead drunk, in his underpants, yelling for a cab. Yeltsin argued with the agents, he did not want to return to Blair House, where he was staying. He wanted a taxi and pizza,” Branch wrote in his book, quoted by History.
It was clear that Boris Yeltsin had a problem with alcohol
When Branch asked Clinton how it all ended, the president shrugged and said, “well, he got pizza.” The next night, Clinton recalled, Yeltsin tried to do it again.
“Managing to escape the guard, he made his way down the stairs to the basement of Blair House, where a guard mistook him for a drunken intruder. Yeltsin was briefly in danger until Russian and American agents learned the identities of everyone involved. “Given that the security guards thought he was an intruder, Clinton felt that this incident, although inside the Blair House, posed an even greater risk than the pizza affair,” Branch wrote.
“The Rise and Fall of the Drunken Tsar”
Unfortunately, these nocturnal escapades illustrated a larger problem Yeltsin had with alcohol. Washington Post reporters reported that during the 1995 press conference in which Yeltsin said the American press was “a disaster,” the Russian president got drunk on white wine. In another article from The Washington Post, Clinton’s former deputy secretary of state suggested that the reason Clinton laughed so profusely was an attempt to cover up the Russian president’s drunkenness. Another incident was when Yeltsin called a drunken Clinton and asked her to arrange a secret meeting aboard a submarine.
During Yeltsin’s presidency from 1991 to 1999, his alcoholism worsened to such an extent that the Russian president frequently tripped and fell. Yeltsin also behaved inappropriately in front of the cameras, such as when he pinched two secretaries in front of journalists. These jokes became part of his legacy.
Upon his death in 2007, the German daily Der Spiegel recalled all this with a particularly direct headline, “The Rise and Fall of the Drunken Tsar.”