Boris Yeltsin: I want you to know that I never said this would be easy

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The Independent Online

The year 2000 is upon us, a new century, a new millennium. We have all measured ourselves against this date, working out 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.

Dear friends, my dears, today I am wishing you New Year greetings for the last time. Today, on the last day of the outgoing century, I am retiring.

I have done the main job of my life. Russia will never return to the past. Why hold 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.

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. I ask you to forgive me for not fulfiling 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 civilised 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. 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, agonising 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. 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.

This is an edited extract from President Boris Yeltsin's farewell New Year's Eve message to the Russian people in 1999