PASSINGS: Viktor Chernomyrdin

Viktor Chernomyrdin

Prime minister of Russia in 1990s

Viktor Chernomyrdin, 72, who served as Russia's prime minister in the turbulent 1990s as the country was throwing off communism and developing as a market economy, died Wednesday in Moscow. The cause was not given.

Born in a Siberian village in 1938, Chernomyrdin rose through the ranks of the Communist Party to head the Soviet oil and gas ministry from 1985 to 1989. He then engineered the transformation of the ministry into a state gas company, Gazprom, which is now the bedrock of Russia's economy.

In late 1992, he was appointed prime minister by then-President Boris Yeltsin and surprised the young liberal economists leading Russia's transformation by pushing ahead with market reforms.

In 1995, in the middle of the first Chechen war, he held negotiations over the telephone with rebel leader Shamil Basayev, whose forces were holding more than 1,500 people hostage in a hospital in Budyonnovsk. The hostages were freed in exchange for Russia's promises to begin negotiating a peaceful settlement, but Chernomyrdin took heat for allowing the hostage-takers to escape.

Chernomyrdin was fired in March 1998, but after the financial crash that August, when Russia defaulted on its debts and devalued its currency, Yeltsin asked him to return as prime minister. Parliament, however, refused to confirm him.

In 2001, a year after Vladimir Putin had been elected president, he appointed Chernomyrdin as ambassador to Ukraine. Chernomyrdin had been elected to parliament and his diplomatic posting was seen as an effort to distance a political heavyweight from Moscow. Chernomyrdin remained ambassador until last year.

— Times wire reports

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