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AP Photos: Chronicling Russia's change: 25 years of turmoil

Associated Press logo Associated Press 26/12/2016 By ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO, Associated Press
FILE In this file photo taken on Sunday, Nov. 4, 1990, The high priests of Russian Orthodox Church holding up icons and crosses parade pass a giant Lenin portrait in the Red Square, Moscow. When Alexander Zemlianichenko started working as an AP photographer in Moscow, the Soviet Union was nearing its demise. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, file) © The Associated Press FILE In this file photo taken on Sunday, Nov. 4, 1990, The high priests of Russian Orthodox Church holding up icons and crosses parade pass a giant Lenin portrait in the Red Square, Moscow. When Alexander Zemlianichenko started working as an AP photographer in Moscow, the Soviet Union was nearing its demise. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, file)

MOSCOW — When I started working as an AP photographer in Moscow, the Soviet Union was nearing its demise.

In August 1991, I took pictures of Russian President Boris Yeltsin rallying opposition to a hard-line coup that briefly ousted Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. When the coup collapsed, I witnessed triumphant crowds pulling down a towering monument of Soviet secret police founder Felix Dzerzhinsky next to the main KGB headquarters in central Moscow.

The coup fueled separatist sentiments in the republics and weakened the Kremlin's power, precipitating the Soviet breakup. Gorbachev stepped down on Dec. 25, 1991, and the Soviet Union ceased to exist.

The ensuing economic meltdown led to widespread poverty. Amid raging political infighting in 1993, Russian President Boris Yeltsin used army tanks to pummel the parliament building where rebellious lawmakers holed up.

The following year, he sent troops to crush a separatist rebellion in Chechnya, launching years of bloody conflict.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Twenty-five years ago, a failed coup by hard-line Communists led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Here, with a selection of his photographs, Pulitzer Prize-winning AP photographer Alexander Zemlianichenko describes what it was like chronicling the pivotal moments since.

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Yeltsin's popularity dwindled amid economic troubles and the Chechen war, and it took immense effort to win re-election in 1996. That year I won my second Pulitzer for a picture of Yeltsin dancing at an election rally in a desperate bid to rally support. He was suffering from a heart ailment and stepped down before the end of his term, anointing former KGB officer Vladimir Putin as his preferred successor.

Putin's promises to restore the country's Soviet-era clout and prestige helped make him widely popular. An oil bonanza reversed the nation's economic fortunes and led to a construction boom that changed the face of Moscow.

The 2014 Winter Games, which Russia hosted in Sochi, marked the peak of the nation's oil-driven boom. Just as they were closing, protesters drove a Russia-friendly president of Ukraine from power. Putin moved quickly to annex Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. Weeks later, a Russia-backed separatist insurgency flared up in eastern Ukraine.

The U.S. and the European Union responded by slapping Russia with a series of economic sanctions, which together with plummeting oil prices have driven the Russian economy into recession. Ties between Russia and the West ties are now at their lowest point since the Cold War times.

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