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Special Event

Millennium 2000: Acting Russian President Putin Already Making Changes

Aired January 3, 2000 - 4:31 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: Russia is beginning its new millennium with a new leader.

CNN's Siobhan Darrow reports that acting President Vladimir Putin is already is making changes in his predecessor's government.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SIOBHAN DARROW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): While most Russians are getting ready to celebrate Orthodox Christmas, new acting President, Vladimir Putin, was busy house cleaning, relieving five of Yeltsin's closest aides of their official posts, offering them symbolic jobs instead. Among those removed, Yeltsin's influential daughter, Tatiana Dychenko.

Before being removed from his post, Yeltsin spokesman Dimitry Yakushkin was busy defending his former boss on a Moscow radio station. The host of the program questioned Yakushkin about allegations of Yeltsin family bank accounts in Switzerland. Yakushkin was dismissive.

DIMITRY YAKUSHKIN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SECRETARY: He didn't commit any crimes, that's for sure. I mean, it's even senseless to talk about. These allegations, I think they are part of a political struggle.

DARROW: One of Putin's first moves upon taking charge was granting Yeltsin, his mentor, total immunity from prosecution. But analysts here say Putin will have to walk a fine line between taking care of his benefactor and keeping his distance.

VIKCTOR KREMENYUK, POLITICAL ANALYST: Because on one hand, he is an heir apparent, he's blessed by Mr. Yeltsin. But on the other hand, he has at least to send a signal round that he will not take all of Mr. Yeltsin's legacy, including some tycoons, you know, and members of his family and so on.

DARROW: Putin, in an interview with CNN last week, said fighting those accused of corruption wasn't his top priority. He would attack the roots.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, ACTING RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): And where are the roots? In the economy, first of all, in the fact that the economic laws are violated.

DARROW: Such an attitude may not sit well with ordinary Russians, who are as fed up with corruption as the failing economy.

"The Mafia grabs everything" says this woman.

Even U.S. President Bill Clinton says Democratic reforms depend on the eradication of corruption, in an essay he wrote for "Time" magazine.

(on camera): No matter how hard Putin ends up cracking down on corruption, one thing he's made clear is, as long as he's in power, Yeltsin will be safe.

Siobhan Darrow, CNN, Moscow.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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