Emotional Putin pays tribute to 1990s predecessor
Vladimir Putin, his voice shaking with emotion, Friday led tributes to late prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin as Russia paid a final farewell to one of its most prominent post-Soviet statesmen.
Speaking at the funeral ceremony for Chernomyrdin who died on Wednesday, the current Russian premier praised the former government chief for taking on the responsibility of leading Russia in the chaos of the 1990s.
Putin -- who repeatedly appeared on the verge of tears throughout his address and took frequent pauses to compose himself -- said that Chernomyrdin's hard work and modesty was an example for all Russia's leaders.
Chernomyrdin was prime minister under president Boris Yeltsin from December 1992 to March 1998, with another brief premiership from August-September 1998, a turbulent period that saw war with Chechnya and near economic meltdown.
"He led the government in the most difficult period of our history and we can only guess what moral and physical burdens this caused," Prime Minister Putin said. "His government carried out very difficult reforms."
"There was no arrogance, no yearning for stardom. He simply worked. And worked successfully and effectively," said Putin, standing in front of Chernomyrdin's corpse in an open coffin.
A former Soviet apparatchik, Chernomyrdin is credited with building Russia's state-controlled Gazprom into the world's largest gas firm and showing a reliability that his unpredictable boss Yeltsin sometimes lacked.
Putin, who handed over the presidency to Dmitry Medvedev in 2008, has made technocratic efficiency his mantra in his post of prime minister.
"Without doubt Viktor Stepanovich is an example for us all," he said.
Medvedev, standing side-by-side with Putin in the funeral ceremony, said Chernomyrdin had been a calming and consolidating influence in the wild years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
"The 1990s were extraordinarily hard. People were not paid their salaries, lost their jobs, the mood in society was heavy. All that burden lay on Viktor Stepanovich," he said.
Chernomyrdin was later Friday due to be buried in the cemetery of the Novodevichy Convent, the traditional resting place of Russia's greatest heroes.
© 2010 AFP