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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chernomyrdin's U.S. Visit to Focus on Space, Oil

WASHINGTON -- Agreements on space, oil exploration and the environment are on the agenda this week as Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin visits the United States. Not well known in the United States, Chernomyrdin has taken a leading role in developing Russia's economic policy, and U.S. officials, most prominently Vice President Al Gore, are assiduously courting him. Chernomyrdin arrived Tuesday and over the following two days will participate with Gore in meetings of a U.S.-Russia commission established 14 months ago to explore opportunities for trade and investment and cooperation in space and energy. He will meet with President Bill Clinton on Thursday, and officials in both governments said their discussion is likely to include foreign policy issues such as North Korea, Bosnia and the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Baltic states. The biggest items on Chernomyrdin's agenda are a multibillion-dollar oil exploration agreement with Marathon Oil and McDermott Co., and progress toward a joint space station that could have Russian and American astronauts working side by side. The prime minister also will get a promise of U.S. technical assistance for the massive job of cleaning up the environmental mess left by Soviet-era industry. Chernomyrdin was a compromise choice for prime minister in December 1992, acceptable to both Yeltsin and a parliament that refused to confirm Western favorite Yegor Gaidar. "Reforms are over," Gaidar wrote in a recent article published in Izvestia. "Forget about them." But now the Clinton administration has a much more positive view of Chernomyrdin. "Russia's economic reform, contrary to all the black talk in January, has gone fairly well," said a senior administration official, speaking only on condition of anonymity. "They're on track, they've got a reform program going and he's kept the budget very conservative." Robert Strauss, a former ambassador to Moscow, calls the prime minister "the most likely successor to the president. Chernomyrdin would be the fellow you'd put your money on today." Chernomyrdin's strongest support comes from the energy industry. Strauss said that Chernomyrdin, former director of the Soviet natural gas industry, "probably negotiates more gas contracts than anybody else in the world." John Murphy, chairman and chief executive officer of Dresser Industries of Dallas, a major supplier of equipment for oil and gas development, said he has known the Russian premier for 15 years and considers him "a very good businessman." Murphy dismissed those who criticize Chernomyrdin as "a Soviet bureaucrat." "That's exactly what he is not," said Murphy. "He understands business, understands economics, understands that business has to make money. He's a very, very competent individual. Not a bureaucrat at all." As cochairmen of a commission to explore trade and investment opportunities, Gore and Chernomyrdin have earlier negotiated agreements to promote space cooperation and encourage U.S. firms to participate in development of Russian oil and gas resources. Robert Gates, who was director of the CIA when Chernomyrdin became prime minister, agreed that when Chernomyrdin headed the Soviet gas industry, "among the communist managers, he was one of the most effective and he impressed a fair number of people in this country as someone who could get things done.