During his struggle against the nomenklatura-led central government in the last years of the USSR, Boris Yeltsin, Russia's flrst elected president, championed the sovereignty of the republics against the authority of the center. He supported the right of every union republic to secede at will, and condemned all central attempts to hold the Union together by military force. In taking such a stand, Yeltsin earned the gratitude of many non-Russian leaders.