Part of that business, Clinton says, will be the troubles Yeltsin left behind: the war in Chechnya, growing crime and corruption and the sagging Russian economy.
Just one day after Yeltsin’s surprise resignation, Putin was on the job, visiting Russian troops in Chechnya to reiterate the government’s support for their campaign.
Earlier, Putin went on national television to assure the Russian people that he was in complete control. “At no minute will there be a vacuum of power in the country,” Putin said.
Yeltsin ended his eight-and-a-half years in office with emotional speech explaining that the dawn of the new millennium meant Russia needed new leadership.
“Russia must enter the new millennium with new politicians, with new faces, with new, smart, strong, energetic people. And we who have been in power for many years already, we must go.”
An emotional Yeltsin also apologized for not solving Russia’s problems during his term.
“I beg your forgiveness for having failed to jump in one leap from the gray, stagnant, totalitarian past to the clear, rich and civilized future,” he said. “I want to beg forgiveness for your dreams that never came true. I am leaving. I’ve done what I could.”
Shortly after his address, Yeltsin gave Putin his presidential pen and medals symbolizing his new status. Yeltsin also turned over to Putin the “nuclear suitcase,” which contains the codes to launch Russia’s nuclear weapons.
Putin convened emergency sessions of the Russian Cabinet and Security Council today to smooth over the transition.
Yeltsin called Putin, a former KGB officer and Russia’s prime minister since August, a “strong man who is worthy of being president.”
One of Putin’s first acts as acting president was to give Yeltsin a grant of immunity. Prosecutors in Switzerland and Russia have been exploring allegations of corruption against members of the Yeltsin’s family, but no charges have been filed.
The Kremlin has been under political attack during the past year with widespread allegations of corruption and other irregularities. Members of the Yeltsin’s family, particularly his daughter Tatyana Dyachenko, have been linked to the allegations.
Putin was expected to run for president in elections in mid-2000, but with Yeltsin’s resignation, Russia’s presidential elections will now be moved up and held in three months.
In a 20-minute phone conversation with President Clinton Friday morning, Yeltsin said Russia would remain committed to democracy, open markets, arms control, and its constitution.
White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart told reporters the United States had no advance notice of Yeltsin’s resignation.
Lockhart the alert status of the U.S. military had not changed after Yeltsin’s announcement.
In a statement this morning, President Clinton hailed Yeltsin’s “historic tenure” as Russia’s president.
“His lasting achievement has been dismantling the communist system and creating a vital democratic process within a constitutional framework,” Clinton said.
Clinton, who has met with Putin twice since Yeltsin promoted him, said he looked forward to working with the new acting president, but said he had no plans for an early visit to Moscow.