Ex-CEO of Russia's Gazprom state-controlled natural gas giant dies at 78

Rem Vyakhirev, the man who helped create Russia's state-run Gazprom natural gas giant and led it for nearly a decade, has died at 78.

Gazprom said Vyakhirev died Monday at his home outside Moscow. The cause of death wasn't given.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev praised Vyakhirev as a man who helped make Gazprom a "key player on the global energy market and the backbone of Russia's economy."

Vyakhirev began his career as an oil engineer 1957 and rose through the ranks of the Soviet Union's oil and gas industries to become the first deputy gas minister in 1986. He became Gazprom chief in 1992 and oversaw its steady growth.

Vyakhirev served as Gazprom's CEO until 2001, when President Vladimir Putin replaced him with his loyalist Alexei Miller.