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Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin Publishes His 'Midnight Diaries'

Aired October 10, 2000 - 2:37 p.m. ET

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

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Now to Russia, where Boris Yeltsin is back in the news. The outspoken former Russian president is touting his book, a memoir. The colorful tell-all covers a lot of ground, from Mr. Yeltsin's 1999 New Year's Eve decision to resign, to his reputation as a heavy drinker, to his opinion of his successor Vladimir Putin, even President Clinton's marital indiscretions.

Moscow bureau chief Jill Dougherty has our report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JILL DOUGHERTY, CN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): It's Boris Yeltsin's third book, "The Presidential Marathon." It's English title: "Midnight Diaries."

BORIS YELTSIN, FORMER RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Most of you standing here will find yourselves in this book, along with your names.

DOUGHERTY: A nervous chuckle from the high-powered guests at the book's unveiling. The memoir is chock full of people who helped make modern Russian history. The book begins with that 1999 New Year's Eve announcement, a decision he kept secret right up until going into the studio.

In an interview with Russian television, ORT, he says it was a very hard decision.

YELTSIN (through translator): You retire, and then the question arises: What do you do? I can't not be busy with something. I have to do something, and all of a sudden there's nothing to do. That doesn't sit well with me.

DOUGHERTY: Mr. Yeltsin also describes the man he chose to replace him: Vladimir Putin. Putin, he writes, "was rather cool, but combined dedication to democracy and market reforms with unswerving patriotism."

When he told Putin he intended to make him acting president, Putin said he wasn't ready. "It wasn't weakness on his part," writes Boris Yeltsin, "it was the doubts of a strong person."

Though he denies there is anything sensational in his book, Mr. Yeltsin does delve into the Monica Lewinsky scandal of U.S. President Bill Clinton, claiming Russian intelligence alerted him to a plot by Republicans to plant a young provocateur in the White House.

YELTSIN (through translator): That information came along before the incident took place. I had the chance to warn him but I didn't. It seemed disgusting to me, morally, and I didn't really believe it. I thought he could deal with it himself.

DOUGHERTY: On his own personal note, Mr. Yeltsin writes of his drinking, which he found the only means to quickly get rid of stress. But he says he overcame the compulsion.

The Russian president still defends his decision to launch two wars in Chechnya, but says he feels guilt.

YELTSIN (through translator): Of course, I can't avoid responsibility for Chechnya, the guilt for the grief of so many mothers and fathers. There was no other solution, but I made the decision. I am responsible.

DOUGHERTY: He wrote the book by keeping a tape recorder by his side. A top aide polished it. Summing up his time in power, President Yeltsin calls himself the "first leader of Russia whom they didn't humiliate."

Jill Dougherty, CNN, Moscow.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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