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Architect Of Russian Market Reforms Dies

Yegor Gaidar in 2007
(RFE/RL) -- Yegor Gaidar, the Russian economist who oversaw the first major wave of post-Soviet market reforms known as "shock therapy" under former President Boris Yeltsin died early today of complications from a blood clot, his spokesman said. He was 53.

Gaidar, who died while working on a book at his home in the Moscow region, served as acting prime minister in the early 1990s, but was never confirmed by parliament.

His decision to free prices from state control was a major step in the transition from Soviet-era central planning to a market economy. It helped avert a major crisis by bringing food to empty store shelves. But the resulting skyrocketing inflation made him deeply unpopular among millions of Russians who saw their life savings vanish.

Liberal politician Leonid Gozman, one of the last people to see Gaidar late on December 15, told RFE/RL's Russian Service the economist was a "great person."

"He was a great scholar, a great civil servant," Gozman said. "He saved Russia. He saved it from famine, collapse, and war. And that means he saved mankind."

Gaidar and his fellow reformers appointed by former President Boris Yeltsin argued for pushing reform quickly before a political backlash closed a temporary window of opportunity.

Gaidar helped oversee the start of Russia's massive and controversial privatization program that put state-owned assets into private hands. But in an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service earlier this year, he said he'd wanted to carry out privatization differently than it was mandated by parliament.

"After long discussions, we decided it was better to carry out privatization under incomplete legislation -- somehow to put property into the hands of people who would best be able to use it -- than to have absolutely chaotic privatization [under the old laws]," Gaidar said.

Gaidar served in a number of cabinet positions, including as finance and economy minister. After leaving government in 1994, he served as head of his economic think tank and maintained a public profile as a scholar. He was a member of parliament from 1999 to 2004 and a co-chair of the Union of Rightist Forces, a liberal party that joined several prominent Yeltsin-era reformers.

Economist Yevgeny Yasin, a former finance minister who also helped lead market reforms in the 1990s, told Ekho Moskvy radio that Gaidar's death was a "massive loss."

"From the very beginning," he said, "I understood that very serious decisions had to be made in order for the country to stop its decline toward collapse. Gaidar was the person who made them."

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has since reasserted some degree of state control over the economy. He's criticized the reforms of the 1990s as a time of chaos in which a handful of Kremlin-connected businessmen unfairly amassed huge fortunes.

Gaidar disapproved of some of Putin's policies, but he never joined other ex-reformers' vocal opposition to the Kremlin. In his interview earlier this year, Gaidar criticized Putin's abolition of elections of the country's regional governors in favor of Kremlin appointments.

"I believe it's not an intelligent decision for the Kremlin to take responsibility for how garbage is cleaned off the streets in [for example, the provincial city of] Uryupinsk," he said. "I think the local authorities should handle that."

Gaidar came from a prominent family of intellectuals. His grandfather, Arkady, was a popular author of children's books. Gaidar's daughter recently came to prominence as a liberal activist who was briefly arrested for protesting against the Kremlin.

In 2006, Gaidar fell ill during a trip to Ireland shortly after former Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officer Aleksandr Litvinenko died of poisoning in London. Gaidar, who was also believed to have been poisoned, blamed whom he called enemies of Russia.