Leadership at natural-gas monopoly Gazprom, Russia’s largest corporation, passed last month from one of the company’s founders to a Kremlin apparatchik. But the move, as Twain said of Wagner’s music, is better than it sounds. The founder is Rem Vyakhirev, who helped Viktor Chernomyrdin assemble and “privatize” Gazprom during the Gorbachev era. The apparatchik is Aleksei Miller, a deputy minister of energy who replaced Vyakhirev at the end of May, on orders from President Putin. (The Russian state owns 38 percent of the company and directly controls five of eleven seats on the board of directors.)

Under Vyakhirev and Chernomyrdin, who served five years as Boris Yeltsin’s prime minister and who is now ambassador to Ukraine, Gazprom played a complex three-card monte with its assets, profits and losses, hiding them under different corporate shells with different (often hidden) owners. Billions may never be found. President Putin told reporters yesterday that he does not expect Miller “to perform police functions,” but he does expect the company’s assets and liabilities to be transparently accounted.