The only time I heard a country leader apologize

Alexei Sorokin
4 min readNov 11, 2021

I’ve always wondered: do country leaders ever apologize? Every one of them, no matter the country, or the party, no matter how popular they are and how smooth their period in power is, sometimes fucks up. Everyone on this planet fucks up from time to time; surely, leaders make mistakes too. We know they do; in fact, they make mistakes of grandiose scale, by the nature of the job. They go to wars that kill people; they drop bombs by mistake; they mess up economies; they don’t always win against their enemies; they mess up in their personal lives; they make bad hiring decisions; they don’t fulfill their election promises. The list goes on. Surely, there must some nights, maybe many nights when they go to bed unhappy with themselves, feeling like they’re failing.

Or are they instructed by their PR team or advisors, to never apologize so as to avoid any damage to their popularity and position of strength vis-à-vis their opponents?

Or, if an apology is not an option, do they ever express self-doubt or admit feeling vulnerable? Not bold, confident, and assertive, but in doubt and vulnerable? Surely, showing some humility and occasional self-doubt is a sign of emotional intelligence.

I just don’t recall ever seeing any country leader expressing self-doubt, be it in a public speech or just an interview. Not Bush, not Obama, not Biden, not Putin. Certainly not Trump!

Except for this one time.

Yeltsin's resignation, on the final day of the 1990s decade.

I was pretty young then, not even twenty, but I remember the speech very well. Most Russians probably do, whether they loathed or respected him. It was on New Year’s Eve, the most celebrated holiday in Russia, when everyone gathers at home to celebrate with friends and family, staying up all night, with TV always on in the background.

Decades have now gone by and I suspect for the younger Russian generation or non-Russians, it’s no longer easy to understand the historic context. I wrote about it in my other story recently, where I told about the kidnapping of my dad in 1999.

When the Soviet Union fell in 1991, there was a lot of hope. Yeltsin then defeated the coup led by the headliners who wanted to save the Soviet Union and he emerged as the country’s leader. The image of him speaking on a tank outside of Parliament embodied the victorious start of his epoch.



Alexei Sorokin

A Russian immigrant in America, father of 4, Cambridge and Harvard Business School alum. I run and write every day.