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Special Event

Reaction Day After Yeltsin Cedes the Presidency; A Look at How Russia is Coping With Millennium Bug

Aired January 1, 2000 - 4:02 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

RIZ KHAN, CNN ANCHOR: Russian forces pressed their offensive against rebels in Chechnya today, reportedly launching their heaviest attack yet against the capital, Grozny. A day after Boris Yeltsin unexpectedly resigned, naming him acting president, Vladimir Putin visited Russian troops in Chechnya. He also received a congratulatory phone call from President Bill Clinton, who reconfirmed a commitment to forging a partnership with Moscow. The Russians seemed happy about the change at the top, as CNN's Eileen O'Connor reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For many people in Moscow, Boris Yeltsin's decision to cede the presidency to his prime minister was just all the more reason to celebrate.

"The main event here is really the resignation of the president and the new person's arrival," Luball (ph) says. "He's younger, more energetic. We put all our hopes on him."

O'CONNOR: Others were a little more cautious.

"New power is always new power," Anatoly says. "We will hope that the life of Russians will improve. It is the New Year, it's a time of hope, renewed expectations that Boris Yeltsin's closest advisers say he was counting on to help him in passing the torch.

ANATOLY CHUBAIS, FORMER YELTSIN AIDE: He said the new generation, which he could see now on the Russian political scene, able to do what he can do in his time, and they may think he underlines the irreversibility of the transformation of Russia.

O'CONNOR: That is something the West is hoping for, that Putin will be true to his word and continue economic and political reforms, building a stronger and democratic institution, like a free press. For now, with the press controlled financially by Boris Yeltsin's strongest supporters, Mr. Putin is shown in only the most favorable light, his strength accentuated. Any signs of a benevolent leader interested in a people played repeatedly.

It was no accident that one his first moves was to fly down to toast troops fighting Chechen rebel, whom he calls terrorist. Putin's message to them, a message to the people. VLADIMIR PUTIN, ACTING RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): The country needs what you're doing badly, really badly. We're not talking about restoration of dignity of the country. No, it's about much more serious things; it's about putting an end to Russia falling apart.

O'CONNOR: It's that kind of sentiment that most appeals to Russians sick of half-hearted reforms to crime and corruption. It's that kind of appeal that makes it difficult for Putin's opponents, like Communist Part chief Gennady Zyuganov, to find fault, so far, resorting to digging at Mr. Putin's main benefactor, Boris Yeltsin.

GENNADY ZYUGANOV, COMMUNIST PARTY LEADER (through translator): His epic is finished already, and it finished a long time ago, finished now that the country is in ruins.

O'CONNOR (on camera): Opinion polls show that if the elections were held tomorrow, Mr. Putin would be a shoo-in to remain as president. But as even he admits, the tree months remaining those elections represents a very long time in Russian politics.

Eileen O'Connor CNN, Moscow.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BOBBIE BATTISTA, CNN ANCHOR: While much of the U.S. was deemed prepared for any Y2K disruptions, there were concerns that vital Russian computer operations might fall victim to the Millennium Bug.

CNN's Jeanne Meserve joins us now with details from the National Y2K Command Center in Washington -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bobbie, there had been some dire predictions about what the New Year would bring to Russia. There was fear the country had not spent enough time and money to address the Y2K problem. But a U.S. official said today he was pleased with what had happened there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KOSKINEN, PRESIDENT'S COUNCIL ON Y2K CONVERSIONS: At this point, it clearly has exceeded not only our expectations, I think others we have not been -- not been as negative about Russia as some outside people looking at it. But at this point, in fact, we got our last report from the embassies today, in terms -- at 4:00 this morning, which was noon in Russia, how they were doing. We have a long series of things that we asked the embassies to check on to the best extent they can, and they will continue to do that. And at this juncture, they have not seen any apparent problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: But in Russia, as in the U.S., getting through the rollover does not necessarily mean getting out of the woods. Systems will continue to be tested in the days to come, and problems still could crop up. Domestically, a few new things to report. They have now upped up to seven the number of nuclear power plants in the U.S. who have had Y2K-related problems. These have been in monitoring and access systems. They've been not related to safety. They haven't had any impact on the ability to generate power, and all of them have been corrected at this point. Low-level wind shear alert systems failed at six airports. The systems however were rebooted, and the systems are now functioning normally.

The Bureau, of Tobacco and Firearms reports problem with a security system at one of its offices. They won't tell us where, because they want to keep the cite secure, although guards are now on the site, keeping watch while repairs are underway. Large retailers around the country are open today. Those who aren't watching football are shopping apparently. And a spokesperson for the National Retail Federation said, "We are happy to report that we have nothing to report." Representatives of various sectors of the economy are saying much the same thing, Y2K is OK, at this point -- Bobbie.

BATTISTA: Jeanne, are officials monitoring the possibility of viruses or hacking on the Internet? Any news there?

MESERVE: They have been monitoring both of those things. There had been fears that they might see increases as the year rolled over. They say they haven't, that hacking has been about the normal level, as have the viruses. The system is functioning effectively and well, but they're encouraging system operators to be vigilant -- Bobbie.

BATTISTA: All right, Jeanne Meserve, in Washington, thank you.

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