Dear Russians, very little time remains to a momentous date in our history. The year 2000 is upon us, a new century, a new millennium.
We have all measured this date against ourselves, working out – first in childhood, then after we grew up – how old we would be in the year 2000, how old our mothers would be, and our children. Back then it seemed such a long way off to the extraordinary New Year. So now the day has come.
‘Contemplated long and hard’
Dear friends, my dears, today I am wishing you New Year greetings for the last time. But that is not all. Today I am addressing you for the last time as Russian president. I have made a decision. I have contemplated this long and hard. Today, on the last day of the outgoing century, I am retiring.
Many times I have heard it said: Yeltsin will try to hold on to power by any means, he won’t hand it over to anyone. That is all lies. That is not the case. I have always said that I would not take a single step away from the constitution, that the Duma elections should take place within the constitutional timescale. This has happened.
And likewise, I would have liked the presidential elections to have taken place on schedule in June 2000. That was very important for Russia – we were creating a vital precedent of a civilized, voluntary hand over of power, power from one president of Russia to another, newly elected one.
‘We must go’
And yet, I have taken a different decision. I am standing down. I am standing down earlier than scheduled. I have realised that I have to do this. Russia must enter the new millennium with new politicians, new faces, new intelligent, strong and energetic people. As for those of us who have been in power for many years, we must go.
Seeing with what hope and belief people voted during the Duma elections for a new generation of politicians, I understood that I had done the main job of my life. Russia will never return to the past. Russia will now always be moving forward.
I must not stand in its way, in the way of the natural progress of history.
Why holding on to power for another six months, when the country has a strong person, fit to be president, with whom practically all Russians link their hopes for the future today? Why should I stand in his way? Why wait for another six months? No, this is not me, this is not in my character.
Today, on this incredibly important day for me, I want to say more personal words than I usually do. I want to ask you for forgiveness, because many of our hopes have not come true, because what we thought would be easy turned out to be painfully difficult.
I ask to forgive me for not fulfilling some hopes of those people who believed that we would be able to jump from the grey, stagnating, totalitarian past into a bright, rich and civilized future in one go.
I myself believed in this. But it could not be done in one fell swoop. In some respects I was too naive. Some of the problems were too complex. We struggled on through mistakes and failures. At this complex time many people experienced upheavals in their lives. But I want you to know that I never said this would be easy.
Today it is important for me to tell you the following. I also experienced the pain which each of you experienced. I experienced it in my heart, with sleepless nights, agonizing over what needed to be done to ensure that people lived more easily and better, if only a little. I did not have any objective more important than that.
‘Not leaving because of my health’
I am leaving. I have done everything I could. I am not leaving because of my health, but because of all the problems taken together.
A new generation is taking my place, the generation of those who can do more and do it better. In accordance with the constitution, as I go into retirement, I have signed a decree entrusting the duties of the president of Russia to Prime Minister Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.
For the next three months, again in accordance with the constitution, he will be head of state. Presidential elections will be held in three months time.
I have always had confidence in the amazing wisdom of Russian citizens. Therefore, I have no doubt what choice you will make at the end of March 2000.
In saying farewell, I wish to say to each of you the following. Be happy. You deserve happiness. You deserve happiness and peace.
Happy New Year, happy new century, my dear people.