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Journal of Democracy 11.2 (2000) 182-186

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Documents on Democracy


On 31 December 1999, Russian president Boris Yeltsin surprised his country and the world by resigning, ending nearly a decade at the helm of post-Soviet Russia. Excerpts from his farewell remarks follow:

Today, I will be giving you my New Year's greetings for the last time. But that's not all. Today, I am speaking to you for the last time as president of Russia.

I have made my decision.

I have thought about it long and hard. Today, on the last day of the departing century, I am resigning.

I have heard many times that "Yeltsin will do anything to stay in power; he won't turn it over to anyone." That is a lie.

But that's not the point. I have always said that I would not deviate one bit from the Constitution. That the Duma elections should take place at the constitutionally appointed time. They did. And I also wanted the presidential elections to take place on time--in June 2000. That was very important for Russia. It would have created an extremely important precedent of a civilized, voluntary transfer of power from one president of Russia to another, newly elected one.

And yet I made a different decision. I am leaving. I am leaving before my term expires. I realize that I have to do it. Russia should go into the new millennium with new politicians, with new faces, with new, clever, strong, and energetic people. And those of us who have already been in power for many years must go.

After seeing the hope and faith with which people voted for a new generation of politicians in the Duma elections, I understood that I had accomplished my life's main mission. Russia can no longer return to the past. Now, Russia will always move forward, only forward. . . .

Today, on this day that is unusually important for me, I would like to say just a few more personal words than usual. I would like to ask your forgiveness. [End Page 182]

For the fact that many of our dreams have not come true. And for the fact that what seemed easy to us turned out to be excruciatingly difficult. I ask your forgiveness for not justifying the hopes of those who believed that at one stroke, in one burst, we could leap from the gray, stagnant, totalitarian past to a bright, prosperous, and civilized future. I myself believed this.

It seemed that we could overcome everything in just one burst. But it didn't turn out that way. In this, I turned out to be too naive. The problems turned out to be too complicated. We fought our way forward through mistakes and failures. Many people's lives were turned upside down in that difficult time. But I want you to know something. I have never said it before, but it's important for me to say it to you now. I felt the pain of each and every one of you--I felt it in my heart. I had sleepless nights, tormented by worry over what I could do to make people's lives at least a little bit easier and better. That was my most important job.

I am leaving. I have done all that I could. It's not because of my health, but because of a combination of all these problems. A new generation is coming to replace me, a generation of those who can do more and better. In accordance with the Constitution, in resigning, I have signed a decree placing the duties of the president of Russia on the head of the government, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. For three months, in accordance with the Constitution, he will be the head of state. And in three months, also in accordance with the Constitution of Russia, presidential elections will take place.

Later that day, Vladimir Putin accepted his new office. Excerpts from his remarks follow:

Dear Russians! Fellow countrymen!

Today, I assumed the duties of head of state. Presidential elections will be held in three months...


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