"Half a century ago our country saved the world from fascism, but today it is in Russia that it is rearing its head," he said in a radio address to mark 57 years since Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. More than 25 million Soviet citizens were killed in the Second World War.
After decades of virulent anti-Nazi propaganda by the Soviet authorities, Russia had considered itself immune from Nazism. But the hardships brought about by economic reforms launched after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and a lack of liberal traditions have created conditions in which radical groups, including neo-Nazis, have flourished.
Some extremist groups have adopted symbols strongly reminiscent of the Nazi swastika and Mr Yeltsin said teenagers, enchanted by the military insignia, were trying on black uniforms like those of the Nazi SS.
"Again one hears calls for a firm hand and draconian discipline. To some this seems to be the best way out of the present far from simple situation," Mr Yeltsin said. "Using lofty words about the revival of Russia and its national spirit as a cover, again a search is on for an enemy to humiliate, herd into prisons and execute."
An opinion poll conducted among 6,000 people across Russia at the beginning of June by the Institute for the Sociology of Parliamentarism showed that 5 per cent viewed the activities of pro-fascist organisations in Russia positively. Almost one-third thought life would be better if they were surrounded by their own nationality.
The foreign community in Moscow has been alarmed by recent attacks on people of African and Asian origin. The rise of far-right politicians has raised fears of an ultra-nationalist regime. But only 11 per cent of those surveyed thought fascists could come to power soon while more than half were sure they would not.
"I am alarmed that the reality of the danger of extremism in Russia is not being felt by all," Mr Yeltsin said. "Will the Russians really allow the most terrible ideology ever known by mankind to take root in our land? It is our common duty to the memory of the victims of fascism to prevent a revival of the plague of the 20th century."