DATE=1/4/2000 TYPE=U-S OPINION ROUNDUP TITLE=BORIS YELTSIN RESIGNS NUMBER=6-11615 BYLINE=ANDREW GUTHRIE DATELINE=WASHINGTON EDITOR=ASSIGNMENTS TELEPHONE=619-3335 CONTENT= INTRO: The biggest news story of New Year's Day, aside from the changing of years, centuries and, some say, the millennium, was the resignation of Russian President Boris Yeltsin. In what some U-S papers are describing as a political master stroke, the ailing, 76-year-old Russian leader stepped down in such a way as to give his hand-picked successor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a big advantage in the next election. Dozens of U-S papers are commenting on this latest, unexpected turn in the Russia's turbulent politics. We get a sampling now from ____________ in today's U-S Opinion Roundup. TEXT: The Russian president went on national television New Year's Eve to tell a stunned nation of his decision. He has been in failing health for years, and after a succession of Prime Ministers during the past 24 months, decided on Mr. Putin as his chosen successor. Many Russians greeted the news with approval, suggesting that it was time for the ailing leader to step aside. Surprisingly, even many of Mr. Yeltsin's harshest critics seemed to mellow their assessment of his achievements with the news. However, many observers pointed out that Mr. Yeltsin was leaving under a cloud, with as yet unproven assertions that he, or members of his inner circle, had accepted bribes from international businessmen. In one of his first moves as acting president, Mr. Putin granted President Yeltsin a full pardon, as well as other benefits. We begin this assessment of Mr. Yeltsin's place in history with the Chicago Tribune. VOICE: History is made mostly by leaders with the instincts to recognize the decisive moment and the boldness to seize the initiative that carries the day. Boris Yeltsin was such a leader, right down to his surprise resignation ... on Friday. ... The Russian people may have mixed feelings about [Mr.] Yeltsin now, but history may judge him more kindly. He turned one of the 20th century's evil empires into one of the world's largest democracies. In the new century, [Mr.] Yeltsin's great legacy may be this peaceful, democratic transition and the free elections to come. TEXT: Some of that assessment is echoed by The Tulsa [Oklahoma] World, which comments: VOICE: [Mr.] Yeltsin leaves office almost a shell of his former self. But he must be remembered as a strong leader who rallied his countrymen at a time when a half-century of communist rule and one-thousand years of tyranny was all the Russian people had known. /// OPT /// History will be kinder to [President] Yeltsin than his last years in office would indicate. /// END OPT /// TEXT: In Jacksonville, The Florida Times-Union remembers what many are calling Mr. Yeltsin's finest hour, during the attempted coup. VOICE: History will speak highly of him. He was, first and foremost, a hero - - the man who stood bravely on top of a tank and whipped up sentiment against a hard-line coup, paving the way for the collapse of soviet communism. He was the architect of Russian democracy and free markets. ... He also was the first elected Russian president to voluntarily transfer power to a successor. [Mr.] Yeltsin has critics -- all great men do -- but he leaves an impressive legacy. TEXT: After praising Mr. Yeltsin along the lines of the other editorials cited, The Detroit News takes a look at the many negatives he leaves behind. VOICE: Mr. Yeltsin dismantled government-run Soviet factories, a relic of communist planning, but put them in the hands of private monopolists, most of whom were his own cronies. This concentrated the fruits of reform in the hands of a few, fueling the economic meltdown of 1998 and earning a bad reputation for capitalism. To make matters worse, he devalued the ruble, producing runaway inflation; kept taxes high in a vain effort to balance the budget; and made little headway in establishing the rule of law and property rights. .... Average Russians may be forgiven for thinking that they aren't much better off than they were under communism - - a fact for which Mr. Yeltsin apologized in his farewell speech. TEXT: Across Lake Erie, The [Cleveland, Ohio] Plain Dealer adds this summing up. VOICE: ... it may be argued it was past time for [Mr.] Yeltsin to go. Russia's first democratically-elected president who led the fight to cast off the tyrannical trappings of the old Soviet state, he had become a caricature of himself. Nonetheless, it was vintage Yeltsin to pick the last day of the century for his dramatic exit. It is to his credit he recognized that Russia needed a change at the top. But whether he has set in motion a chain of events that will be good for Russia or the world is one of the first riddles to be solved in the 21st century. /// OPT /// TEXT: From the Southwest comes this critique in The Daily Oklahoman, from Oklahoma City. VOICE: Behind the caricature and the real-world Pratfalls (blunders), Boris Yeltsin became a pretty fair politician. For evidence look no further than his New Year's Eve resignation. His Prime Minister and handpicked successor, Vlaldimir Putin, is in a strong position to win Russia's next presidential election in March ..... Not bad for a bumbling, hard-drinking, sickly former communist. If Russia continues to stumble toward democracy ... [Mr.] Yeltsin will deserve much of the credit. TEXT: In Texas, The Houston Chronicle looks ahead, wondering "What would a Putin presidency mean?" VOICE: "The scary truth is, we have absolutely no idea," says Michael McFaul, an expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who spoke about Russian politics recently [at]... the Houston World Affairs Council. TEXT: Across the state, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram says: VOICE: Vladimir Putin may be a mystery to the West, but he may also be Russia's best hope for the future. TEXT: While in the Midwest, the outgoing Russian leader draws praise from The Detroit Free Press. VOICE: You can say this for Boris Yeltsin: In his best moments, he had an unbeatable sense of political theater. Whether he was clambering aboard a tank to resist a communist coup ... or resigning unexpectedly on the cusp of the millennium - - he knew how to make his point. What he didn't know was how to make Russia work. ...[However] ... He leaves behind a country in which the idea of elections has become commonplace, and the commitment to a free-market economy is firm, at least in theory: think what a miracle that is, after a thousand years of autocracy. TEXT: The Kansas City [Missouri] Star compares him favorably to America's irascible 18th president Ulysses S. Grant, the famed Civil War commanding General of the Union army. VOICE: Both were hard-drinking, rough-edged, underestimated men who surrounded themselves with corrupt followers. Both seemed to wither amid the routine of day-to-day administration. Yet both could rise to meet a crisis. TEXT: And from Connecticut's capital, The Hartford Courant says of the former Russian leader: VOICE: President Boris Yeltsin ... will forever be remembered as a man of courage who engineered the relatively peaceful breakup of a dysfunctional totalitarian empire. /// END OPT /// TEXT: Lastly, from The Boston Sunday Globe, this perspective on the former Russian leader and his successor. VOICE: Exit Yeltsin, not with the bang of standing atop a tank turning back an attempted putsch ... but with a whimper, looking old and sick, and asking his country's forgiveness. Part buffoon, part hero, and a political operator of great skill, Boris Yeltsin ... will be remembered as the man who brought forth a reconstituted Russia from the ruins of the Soviet Union. ... [Mr.] Yeltsin's last years were dogged by illness and by hints of scandal, and his chosen successor, who will face an election in 90 days, is Vladimir Putin, whose fortunes will rise or fall in the Stalingrad-like ruins of Grozny, where a war rages with no end in sight. TEXT: On that note, we conclude this sampling of U-S editorial comment on the resignation of Russian President Boris Yeltsin. NEB/ANG/gm 04-Jan-2000 14:15 PM EDT (04-Jan-2000 1915 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .