Chernomyrdin, Viktor Stepanovich

views updated May 23 2018


(b. 1938), prime minister of the Russian Federation from December 1992 to March 1998.

Trained in western Siberia as an engineer and later an economist, Viktor Chernomyrdin alternated between working as a communist party official who monitored industrial enterprises and actually running such enterprises in the gas industry. From 1978 he worked in the heavy industry department of the party's central apparatus in Moscow, before becoming minister for the oil and gas industries in 1985. In 1989 he was a pioneer in turning part of his ministry into the state-owned gas company Gazprom. He was the first chairman of the board, and oversaw and benefited from its partial privatization.

In 1990 he ran for the newly formed Russian Republic (RSFSR) Congress of People's Deputies, but lost. In May 1992 President Yeltsin appointed him a deputy prime minister of the newly independent Russian Federation. In December, following an advisory vote of the Congress in which he finished second, a politically besieged Yeltsin made him prime minister. Although a typical Soviet official in most respects, Chernomyrdin gradually adapted to free market processes. His concern not to move too precipitately on economic reform enabled him, with his powers of conciliation and compromise, to appease the communists in some measure throughout the 1990s. They looked to him to moderate the radicalism of the "shock therapist" wing of the government.

In the regime crisis of fall 1993, when, violating the Constitution, Yeltsin dispersed the parliament

by military force amid much bloodshed, Chernomyrdin supported Yeltsin without wavering. His reputation suffered as a result of both this and his poor handling of the financial crisis of October 1994 (Black Tuesday). Nonetheless, in April 1995 he founded the first avowedly pro-government political party, "Our Home is Russia", which was covertly funded by Gazprom. This was designed to create a reliable, pro-Yeltsin bloc in the parliament elected in December 1995. However, although Chernomyrdin predicted that it would win almost a third of the 450 seats, in the event it got only 55, gaining the support of a mere 10.1 percent of voters. Apart from the fact that he was a weak leader, it had suffered from public allegations by prominent figures that his earlier leadership of Gazprom had enabled him to accumulate personal wealth of some five billion dollars. Apparently his denials did not convince many voters. Later, the public documentation of massive corruption in his government did not evoke even pro forma denials.

In March 1998 Yeltsin dismissed him without explanation, only to nominate him as acting prime minister the following August. However, the parliament twice refused to confirm him, seeing him as one of the individuals most responsible for the financial collapse of that month. So the floundering president withdrew his nomination. However, Yeltsin named him the next spring as his special representative to work with NATO on resolving the Yugoslav crisis over Kosovo.

In 1999 and 2000 Chernomyrdin chaired the Gazprom Council of Directors, and from 1999 to 2001 he was a parliamentary deputy for the pro-Kremlin party Unity. In 2001 President Putin made him ambassador to Ukraine. Here he supervised a creeping Russian takeover of the Ukrainian gas industry that stemmed from Ukraine's inability to finance its massive gas imports from Russia.

See also: economy, post-soviet; october 1993 events; our home is russia party; privatization; yeltsin, boris nikolayevich


Reddaway, Peter, and Glinski, Dmitri. (2001). The Tragedy of Russia's Reforms: Market Bolshevism Against Democracy. Washington, DC: U.S. Institute of Peace Press.

Shevtsova, Lilia. (1999). Yeltsin's Russia: Myths and Reality. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Peter Reddaway

Chernomyrdin, Viktor

views updated May 29 2018

Chernomyrdin, Viktor (1938– ) Russian statesman, prime minister (1992–98). A member (1986–90) of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), he became prime minister despite the objections of Boris Yeltsin. Chernomyrdin broadly supported economic reform but was critical of the pace of privatization. Yeltsin's illness meant that Chernomyrdin acted as caretaker-president throughout much of 1996–97. Chernomyrdin later acted as Russia's chief negotiator in efforts to end the war in Kosovo.