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Founder of Russia's Gazprom Dies

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, left, speaks with presidential aide and former prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin at a presentation ceremony of state awards in the Kremlin, Moscow, Russia, 6 May 2010 (file photo)

Former Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, the founder of the world's largest gas company Gazprom, has passed away at the age of 72. No cause of death has been released.

Viktor Chernomyrdin was the longest serving prime minister in post-Soviet Russia. Analysts say he helped guide the country through much of the chaos that occurred after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Mr. Chernomyrdin was seen as a loyal advocate to then-president Boris Yeltsin during the difficult economic and political times of the 1990s. He negotiated with Chechen rebels and even stepped in to take the reigns of the presidency when Yeltsin underwent heart surgery in 1996. The temporary role gave him the control over the codes that could start a nuclear war.

The former mechanic also created Gazprom, the world's largest gas company, which holds about 17 percent of the planet's natural gas reserves. The state-controlled company is seen as the Kremlin's biggest bargaining chip on the world's economic market.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin addressed Mr. Chernomyrdin's passing. Mr. Putin said that not only was Mr. Chernomyrdin a man who was very clever, but had a good sense of humor and was a good human being. Mr. Putin added that the former prime minister was a man who did a lot for Russia's economy and foreign policy. He also expressed his condolences to the Chernomyrdin family.

Most Russians remember Mr. Chernomyrdin for his tongue-in-cheek expressions during some of Russia's toughest economic times, such as, "Better than Vodka, there is nothing worse." Many of his idioms were adopted into popular Russian lexicon.

Born in a Siberian village, Mr. Chernomyrdin rose through the ranks to become head of the Soviet oil and gas ministry in 1985 and then transformed the ministry into a state gas company, Gazprom , following the collapse of the Soviet Union.