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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NEWS ANALYSIS: Chernomyrdin Seeks Gazprom Post




Viktor Chernomyrdin plans to return Wednesday to the birthplace of his political career f natural gas monopoly Gazprom. If he succeeds in joining the company's board of directors, the appointment will fit well with the Kremlin's policy of installing loyal functionaries at leading cash cow companies. It will also offer a springboard for Chernomyrdin's own political ambitions.


Previous Russian electoral campaigns have suggested that support and funding from the country's business empires is crucial for victory.


This year, however, those business empires are in decline f thanks to the August ruble devaluation and Treasury bill default, which has left many an "oligarch" reeling. Suddenly Russia's utility, energy and transport monopolies are key sources of cash and clout, and the Kremlin is moving to consolidate control of them.


Last week, Anatoly Chubais secured rock-hard stability for his tenure as the president at Russia's No. 2 monopoly f electrical utility Unified Energy Systems. At that same shareholders meeting, Kremlin chief of staff Alexander Voloshin became chairman of the UES board.


This week it is Gazprom's turn. Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin toured Gazprom headquarters Tuesday, and television cameras left no doubt as to who the main players were. Four people were permanently in the foreground, talking and gesticulating: Stepashin, Chernomyrdin, Voloshin and Gazprom's current boss, Rem Vyakhirev. Stepashin was quoted by Itar-Tass as saying that the four would have "a working discussion" of the board composition.


Chernomyrdin was quoted by Interfax on Tuesday as saying he would remain in politics if elected to the Gazprom board.


"It cannot and will not mark a retreat from active politics," Chernomyrdin said. "The participation of the Our Home Is Russia movement [founded by Chernomyrdin] in the upcoming parliamentary elections is of crucial importance today."


Gazprom's CEO Vyakhirev is less than thrilled at the idea of Chernomyrdin returning to the company, however. He has been highly sarcastic in discussing the former prime minister's nomination.


"Maybe [Chernomyrdin] will at least have some business to do, and not have to just sit around somewhere," Vyakhirev was quoted as saying by the Kommersant newspaper, days after Chernomyrdin finished up a highly visible role as Russia's chief negotiator in the Kosovo crisis. "It would be useful for him. He can see real people."


Having Chernomyrdin back in Gazprom f a company he created in 1992 by secretively privatizing the Soviet natural gas ministry f ought to please the government. While it would be incorrect to see Chernomyrdin as a Kremlin puppet, he does have a loyal track record.


"[Chernomyrdin's expected return to Gazprom] fits very well with a scheme now being carried out by the Kremlin f to put cash flows under control and not to allow 'outsiders' f namely the Communists and [Moscow Mayor Yury] Luzhkov f access to sources of funding," said political analyst Yevgeny Volk, director of the Heritage Foundation's Moscow office.


As one of several members of the Gazprom board, Chernomyrdin's access to the company's multibillion-dollar revenue streams would be limited.


But the Kremlin might be less interested in diverting such money to itself than preventing that money from being siphoned off for its rivals, said another political analyst, Sergei Markov.


"Chernomyrdin's task is not as much to give money [to the Kremlin] as it is not to give it to Luzhkov f and that is something he is perfectly capable of," Markov said.