(MENAFN - AFP) Former Gazprom chief executive Rem Vyakhirev, who turned the Russian state gas firm into a global giant in a decade in charge after the collapse of the USSR, has died, the company announced. He was 78.Vyakhirev, dubbed the "gas king" in Russia for his domination of the gas sector, was appointed to head the newly restructured Joint Stock Company Gazprom in 1992 by then president Boris Yeltsin.He stepped down after a tumultuous decade in charge that saw the company partially privatised in chaotic circumstances and is credited with restoring order after Russia brushed with economic meltdown in 1998."Along with Vyakhirev a whole epoch in the life of modern Russia has died," Alisher Usmanov, one of Russia's richest men and the current director of Gazprom's investment arm, told the Vedomosti daily.Gazprom said in a statement paying tribute that Vyakhirev "worked everywhere giving all his energy with a feeling of personal responsibility for carrying something out."Reports said that he died at his dacha outside Moscow from heart problems late on Monday.Vyakhirev began his energy career in the 1950s in the Volga region before rising to be deputy gas industry minister of the USSR in 1983.Known for his inside-out knowledge of the technical side of business, Vyakhirev was a steady figure under Yeltsin who vehemently opposed attempts by the liberal "young reformers" in the cabinet to split up the mammoth firm.Vyakhirev resigned in May 2001 with new President Vladimir Putin clearly wanting a change in leadership and putting his close ally Alexei Miller in the chief executive seat."Everyone always understood that Miller was someone put in his job whereas Vyakhirev had roots. He seemed to know every valve in the sector," Vedomosti quoted a Gazprom employee as saying.After his resignation as chief executive, Vyakhirev became Gazprom board chairman but resigned after the shortest of periods in 2002 and was thereafter virtually invisible in public life.In a stark change of lifestyle, Vyakhirev lived reclusively at an estate outside Moscow which he rarely left, contenting himself with carp fishing and breeding deer.In 2011 he gave an interview to the Russian edition of Forbes magazine in what were his only public comments between leaving the firm and his death."When Putin heard I was resigning he was so happy that (the Kremlin) immediately starting phoning me to give me a decoration," he told the magazine."Though in the end, they only gave it to me that winter."Vyakhirev gave vent to the bitterness he felt towards the reformers in Yeltsin's cabinet, notably the privatisation supremo Anatoly Chubais."There was never a more harmful person for the Russian state than Chubais and there likely will never be. They all (the reformers) wanted to tear up Gazprom."Gazprom grew out of the USSR's gas industry ministry and was partly privatised from 1993 in the much-criticised sale of state assets in post-Soviet Russia.It has grown into a cornerstone of the modern Russian state under Putin, a key earner of foreign currency revenues for the budget and a major source of the Kremlin's political influence.Until his death, Vyakhirev remained an old school defender of a strong Gazprom and was not impressed by ideas that Russia needed to modernise and reduce its dependence on oil and gas exports."They talk now about how to get off the gas needle. This is just stupid. This is a wet nurse, not a needle!" he told Forbes.