The former Prime Minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, who steered the Russian economy through its stormy transition from Communism to capitalism in the 1990s, died here on Wednesday at the age of 72.
President Boris Yeltsin appointed Mr. Chernomyrdin as Prime Minister at the end of 1992 and he stayed in the post till 1998, becoming the longest serving head of government in post-Soviet Russia. He took charge of the economy when it was in a nosedive triggered by incompetent “shock therapy” at the hands of radical reformers led by Yegor Gaidar. State finances were in disarray as oil plunged to $9 per barrel, annual inflation measured in thousands of percentage points and whole industries were grinding to a halt.
“Chernomyrdin saved the country from total collapse,” said the former Deputy Prime Minister, Boris Nemtsov, who used to be a fierce liberal opponent of Mr. Chernomyrdin.
Mr. Chernomyrdin made his career in the gas industry, rising from a machine operator to the Oil and Gas Minister under Mikhail Gorbachev. As Prime Minister, Mr. Chernomyrdin resisted pressure from liberal radicals to split Gazprom, the natural gas monopoly, turning it into Russia's most powerful weapon in relations with the West.
Mr. Chernomyrdin displayed his superior leadership and political skills during a hostage crisis in 1995, negotiating over the telephone in front of TV cameras the release of 1,500 people held captive by Chechen rebels in Budyonnovsk in south Russia.
After Vladimir Putin became President, he appointed Mr. Chernomyrdin as Ambassador to Ukraine in 2001 and he remained in this post until last year.