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  US Warns of Y2K Problems Abroad

By George Gedda
Associated Press Writer
Friday, Oct. 29, 1999; 6:45 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON –– The State Department has authorized the voluntary departure of eligible family members and nonessential employees from Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova before Jan. 1 because of potential Y2K-related disruptions.

The decision was disclosed Friday in separate travel warnings issued for each country. The warning on Russia said the department is concerned about "potential disruptions in energy supplies that may impact the health and safety of U.S. citizens residing or traveling in Russia, the duration of which is unknown,"

It said U.S. citizens should consider deferring travel to Russia until the extent of Y2K-related disruptions becomes clear.

The number of Americans who would be eligible to depart Russia and the other countries was not disclosed. The announcement would affect nonessential employees at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and U.S. consulates in three Russian cities.

"Prolonged disruptions in energy supplies in Russia could put other systems dependent on electrical power at risk," the announcement said. "In practical terms, this could mean disruption of basic human services such as heat, water, telephone and other vital services."

Similar language was used in the warnings for Belarus and Moldova.

The warning on Ukraine said voluntary departure of eligible Americans was being authorized even though a U.S. government-funded study indicated a low risk of major disruptions to heat and electrical service in that country.

Each of the warnings said U.S. embassies and consulates abroad do not have facilities to provide private U.S. citizens overseas with food, water, fuel, medicines, shelter or other equipment in the event of disruption of essential services.

Last Thursday, the CIA informed Congress that it is "highly confident" Y2K computer failures will not lead to the accidental launch of a ballistic missile by any country.

But it expressed some concern over the safety of aging Soviet-era nuclear power plants in Russia and Ukraine.

Russian Embassy spokesman Mikhail Shurgalin had no immediate comment on the U.S. announcement. Two weeks ago, Russian Deputy Security Chief Vladislav Sherstyuk said Russia will switch some crucial processes to manual control during the year 2000 changeover because it cannot afford to fix the Y2K bug on time.

The State Communications Committee, which is in charge of Russia's preparations for the changeover, earlier said Russia will also reduce the number of airplane flights on Dec. 31 and halt some hazardous industrial processes.

For some time, the State Department has been preparing warnings for Americans living or traveling in 194 nations.

In September, it warned that in China there "may be a risk of potential disruption in the key sectors of banking and finance, telecommunications, medical services and in electrical power and infrastructure systems outside of the coastal cities."

But the prevailing view among senior embassy diplomats in China is that Y2K problems will be minimal in Beijing and other major Chinese cities.

"We're more confident that things here won't fall apart than people in Washington," one diplomat said. He added that the embassy recommendation is not to authorize voluntary departures.

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press

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