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Special Event

Millennium 2000: Putin Passes New Year With Troops in Chechnya

Aired January 1, 2000 - 9:14 a.m. ET

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

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We go to Russia, where Russians woke up Saturday to a new century and a new president, Vladimir Putin, who took over as acting president after Boris Yeltsin's surprise resignation on Friday. He skipped a fancy ball in Moscow to visit Russian troops on the front line in Chechnya instead. Mr. Putin's visit came as Russia launched one of its biggest attacks yet on Grozny.

CNN's Alessio Vinci now has more on the dramatic turn of events in Russia.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In sharp contrast to Boris Yeltsin's poignant farewell address to the Russian nation announcing his resignation, the new acting president, Vladimir Putin, passed up New Year's celebrations in Moscow, heading instead to the breakaway republic of Chechnya.

Awarding troops with hunting knives, he told soldiers fighting separatist militants that their task was to keep the Russian federation together.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, ACTING PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): We're not talking about restoring the country's dignity. No, this is about something much more serious. It's about putting an end to Russia falling apart.

VINCI: In an unusual move, the unexpected trip was broadcast live on Russian television, a sign the new commander-in-chief wasted no time to become Russia's permanent president.

ANDREI KORTUNOV, POLITICAL ANALYST: I think right now for Putin the election campaign will be the most important thing. If and when he's elected as president of the Russian federation, and once he has the public mandate, then we will see some changes. And definitely he will have to distance himself from Yeltsin.

VINCI: But only hours after becoming acting president, Putin signed a decree giving Boris Yeltsin immunity from legal prosecution, a clear sign that Russia's new leader will not allow any witch hunt that could destabilize the country.

After years of economic hardship and failed promises of a better life, Vladimir Putin will have to restore some confidence in the Russian people.

(on camera): Hoping for a better future, Russians came to Red Square to celebrate the new millennium and the most significant political change in almost a decade.

(voice-over): Some already assume that life in Russia with Putin as president will already be better.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I think we'll get paid and we'll have work. We'll have a good army. Education will improve. Things will get just great.

VINCI: For these Russians in their first day of the new millennium, things appeared indeed just great.

Alessio Vinci, CNN, Moscow.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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