Rem Vyakhirev: Gas industry executive who built up Gazprom into a global player


Under Rem Vyakhirev Gazprom expanded long-term gas supply contracts with European buyers and oversaw large-scale projects such as the Blue Stream pipeline across the Black Sea to Turkey and the Yamal-Europe link across Belarus to Poland. But he was accused of running Gazprom, as one critic put it, as "a candy store to provide sweet deals for whoever was running it."

Rem Vyakhirev was born in the village of Bolshaya Chernigovka in Russia in 1934, which even today is described by travellers as a poor and sad place. His father and mother were reportedly a blacksmith and schoolteacher respectively. Either out of conviction, fear or clever opportunism, they registered their son as Rem, a name they made up from "Revolution", "Engels" and "Marx". Sensibly they did not attempt to work Stalin into his name.

Rem was born into a society in turmoil. Hunger and Stalin's great purge accompanied his early childhood, followed by the Second World War. He went to the neighbouring city of Samara for his education. It was an impressive place, known as the "Russian New Orleans" and "Russian Chicago"; perhaps its old mansions led Vyakhirev to dream of future affluence. In 1935 it was renamed Kuybyshev in honour of the Politburo member Valerian Kuybyshev, and was chosen by Stalin as the alternative Soviet capital should Moscow fall to the Nazi invaders; ministries and embassies moved there.

Vyakhirev studied engineering, graduating in 1956. It was a time of optimism after the cloud of Stalinism had been lifted. At the 20th Congress of the Communist Party Nikita Khrushchev delivered his "secret" speech denouncing Stalin and ushering in a less repressive era. He aimed to catch up with, and overtake, the West within a few years, and engineers appeared to have a bright future.

In the years that followed Vyakhirev worked in the oil economy in various parts of the Kuybyshev region. He made good progress and acquired a reputation for his inside-out knowledge of the technical side of business. As one source put it, "He seemed to know every valve in the sector." His dedication led to his appointment as head of the gas development administration, and from 1983-85 he was a deputy minister of the Soviet gas industry. The following year he was promoted to first deputy minister and between 1989 and 1992 served as deputy chairman of the executive committee of the state energy concern, where his boss was Viktor Chernomyrdin.

In August 1989 the two men were the key to the transformation of the old ministry into Gazprom, Russia's first state-corporate enterprise. It controlled not only all the production fields but also all the natural gas pipelines in Russia, accounting for roughly a third of the world's gas reserves.

In May 1992 Russia's new President, Boris Yeltsin, appointed Chernomyrdin Deputy Prime Minister and Vyakhirev stepped into his shoes as chairman of Gazprom. In December that year Chernomyrdin became Prime Minister.

As the Yeltsin government promoted massive privatisation, the fate of Gazprom was in the balance. After much manoeuvring, Gazprom remained a monopoly, thus avoiding the fate of Russia's oil production concerns, which were broken into several entities.

In November 1992, in preparation for its partial privatisation, Yeltsin issued a decree converting Gazprom from a joint-stock company wholly owned by the state into a private, independent joint-stock company. Chernomyrdin saw to it that his protégé, Vyakhirev, was appointed chief executive.

During his years at the top Vyakhirev ran Gazprom almost as a family business, with his brother and son among the chief beneficiaries. In another cruel fraud against the long-suffering Russian people, in a secret trust agreement Vyakhirev and some other officials were issued options to buy 30 per cent of Gazprom stock at bargain-basement prices. The company executed large-scale tax evasion and the state received little revenue from dividends. The management and board members were accused of massive asset-stripping.

When Vladimir Putin became President of Russia in 2000, he launched a campaign to change the culture at Gazprom. He fired Chernomyrdin as the chairman of the company's board and used the stock owned by the state to vote out Vyakhirev. In 1998 Vyakhirev assets qualified him for a place on Forbes' list of the world's 200 richest people; in 2004 the magazine estimated his net worth at $1.2 billion.

After resigning as chief executive, Vyakhirev became Gazprom board chairman but resigned in 2002, and thereafter virtually disappeared from public life. In a dramatic change of lifestyle he lived somewhat reclusively at an estate outside Moscow which he rarely left, contenting himself with carp fishing and breeding deer. He died there from heart problems.

David Childs

Rem Vyakhirev, gas industry executive: born Bolshaya Chernigovka, Russia 23 August 1934; married (one son, one daughter); died Moscow 11 February 2013.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
Life and Style
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions