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Saturday, 1 January, 2000, 11:36 GMT
Cook confident of Russian continuity

Putin Yeltsin Vladamir Putin (left) has replaced Boris Yeltsin

Russia has assured Britain that there will be no change in its policy towards the west following Boris Yeltsin's resignation.

Yeltsin resigns
UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said he had held telephone talks with his counterpart in Moscow, Igor Ivanov, after Vladamir Putin took over as acting Russian president.

Mr Cook said Mr Ivanov was "keen to stress that there will be a continuity in Russian foreign policy and that there will be no shift from the strategic direction Boris Yeltsin set of strategic engagement with the outside world".

Asked if Mr Yeltsin's decision to stand down on New Year's Eve had taken him by surprise, Mr Cook said: "I think it took everybody by surprise, including ministers in his own government.

"Boris Yeltsin, throughout his period as president, is always someone who has managed to keep the initiative and he has certainly shown that on this occasion."

cook Robin Cook: Assurances from Moscow

Mr Cook said he also raised the question of Chechnya with Mr Ivanov during the talks.

"I put it to him that given this change in the political face at the top that this would be a good time to set in motion the political process we have been urging upon Russia," he said.

"Without this political process leading to a settlement there is going to be no permanent stable outcome of the conflict in Chechnya."

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has said that he is looking forward to working with Mr Putin who is widely tipped to win presidential elections on 26 March.

He also paid tribute to Mr Yeltsin, who he said had "played a crucial role in the history of Russia.

"He has steered his country through a most difficult and painful transition from communism to democracy."

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See also:
31 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Blair praises Yeltsin's leadership
01 Jan 00 |  Europe
Putin thanks Russian troops
20 Dec 99 |  Europe
Vladimir Putin: Spy turned politician

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