For most, a visit to a supermarket in the United States is one of life’s more mundane tasks, but for Boris Yeltsin such a trip was eye opening. The first President of the Russian Federation would visit a supermarket in Houston, Texas in 1989, an event which would later be described in The New York Times as follows:
[Yeltsin] became more convinced than ever that Russia had been ruinously damaged by its centralized, state-run economic system, where people stood in long lines to buy the most basic needs of life and more often than not found the shelves bare. He was overwhelmed by what he saw at a Houston supermarket, by the kaleidoscopic variety of meats and vegetables available to ordinary Americans.
Leon Aron, quoting a Yeltsin associate, wrote in his biography, “Yeltsin, A Revolutionary Life” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000): “For a long time, on the plane to Miami, he sat motionless, his head in his hands. ‘What have they done to our poor people?’ he said after a long silence.” He added, “On his return to Moscow, Yeltsin would confess the pain he had felt after the Houston excursion: the ‘pain for all of us, for our country so rich, so talented and so exhausted by incessant experiments.’ ”
He wrote that Mr. Yeltsin added, “I think we have committed a crime against our people by making their standard of living so incomparably lower than that of the Americans.”