At the beginning of 1992, already in the new sovereign Russia, Gazprom faced a serious threat: the reformist government of Burbulis-Gaidar set out to reorganize the gas industry in the likeness of the oil industry, that is, according to the principle of vertical integration. This meant, in addition to the creation of independent gas producing and gas processing enterprises, the withdrawal of the main gas pipeline from Gazprom.
From the point of view of the gas bosses, this was an “assault on the foundations”, almost blasphemy. Gazprom turned on a considerable administrative resource to the fullest, and Vladimir Lopukhin, the Minister of Fuel and Energy of Russia, who personified the aforementioned blasphemy, was removed from his job (moreover, over the head of his immediate superior, First Deputy Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar), and Deputy Prime Minister for the Fuel and Energy Complex was the head of Gazprom, Viktor Chernomyrdin, was appointed, leaving his deputy Rem Vyakhirev in charge of the gas industry.
A day after Chernomyrdin came to the Russian government, President Boris Yeltsin signed two decrees that fixed the status of Gazprom as a “natural monopoly” and transferred the most promising resource base on land and at sea to the concern. Six months later, the privatization of Gazprom began according to the following scheme: 40% remained in state ownership, 28.7% was sold for vouchers, 15% was allocated to the leaders of the concern, 10% was intended for sale to major foreign partners (mainly German Ruhrgas and Wintershall), 5% was transferred to the ownership of the main gas producing region of Russia – the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, 1% – to the Rosgazifikatsiya association.
On December 14, 1992, after a difficult “multi-move” by the president at the Congress of People’s Deputies of the RSFSR, Chernomyrdin became the head of the Russian government, and Gazprom became the “sacred cow” definitively and irrevocably. In particular, Viktor Stepanovich, acting on the principle “What is good for Gazprom, is good for Russia”, created the most favorable conditions for the monopoly – significantly increased domestic gas prices and exempted the company from paying export and partially import duties, as well as from the mandatory sale of part of the foreign exchange earnings. The reformers could only shrug. Former Minister of Economy of the Russian Federation Yevgeny Yasin said this about this: “It was objectively difficult to create companies competing with Gazprom, and even with Viktor Stepanovich at the head of the government, it was completely unrealistic”.
Nevertheless, at least one independent company was created – Itera: it appeared on the market in 1994 and almost immediately received exclusive rights to supply Turkmen gas to Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and the Baltic countries (naturally, on the backbone networks of Gazprom). Further – more: with the goodwill of Gazprom, Itera acquired half of the shares of operating companies that developed large gas fields in Western Siberia – Gubkinskoye and Beregovoye (total recoverable reserves – more than 700 billion cubic meters of gas), and also received the right to gasify the Sverdlovsk region, one of the largest gas consumers in Russia. It should be noted that after the change in the management team of Gazprom in 2001, the Itera business began to shrink like shagreen leather.
But back to the mid 90s. In 1995, Gazprom acted as an important political actor, providing significant organizational and financial support to the center-right (essentially pro-presidential) movement Our Home is Russia, led by Viktor Chernomyrdin (the wits called the new political force Our Home is Gazprom). Contrary to expectations, in the elections to the State Duma in December 1995, the NDR performed unconvincingly, gaining only 10% and losing three times to the communists in terms of the number of deputy mandates. After Chernomyrdin’s resignation from the post of prime minister in March 1998, the influence and popularity of the NDR began to decline rapidly, and in 1999 representatives of the NDR did not get into the State Duma of the third convocation at all, gaining only 1% of the vote in the elections.
In 1997, the largest economic and legal scandal related to Gazprom erupted – First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov published a trust agreement signed in 1994, according to which Gazprom’s management had the right to vote with a 35% state stake, as well as buy at an ultra-low price 30% of the shares from this package, and publicly demanded to terminate it. Soon, President Yeltsin’s resolution appeared on the corresponding document: “This is a robbery of Russia! I demand to understand!”, but the head of Gazprom, Rem Vyakhirev, supported by Chernomyrdin, persisted. The issue was resolved unexpectedly and in an unexpected place – it happened in early December 1997 … during the state visit of the President of Russia to Sweden. Boris Nemtsov remembers:
“During the welcoming ceremony for the Russian delegation, King Carl Gustav XVI, together with Queen Silvia, President Yeltsin and Naina Iosifovna, greeted the members of the Russian delegation. Coming up to me, Yeltsin quietly asked: “The trust agreement was broken, or not?”. I answered: “No.” Then, in front of the astonished royal couple, we turned around and went in the other direction – to where Vyakhirev was standing. Then Boris Nikolaevich, looking straight at Vyakhirev, asked why the contract had not yet been terminated. Upon returning to Moscow, the trust agreement was terminated.