MOSCOW (AP) _ Viktor Chernomyrdin, the former Russian Prime Minister and President Boris Yeltsin's envoy to the Kosovo conflict, was elected Wednesday to chair Russia's largest company, natural gas monopoly Gazprom.

The company, whose exports alone totaled $10.4 billion last year, is a key source of cash for the government, accounting for about one fifth of all tax revenues.

Chernomyrdin, a former chief executive of Gazprom, was elected chairman by the company board at its annual meeting. The mostly ceremonial post was previously held by State Property Minister Farit Gazizulin.

Russian media predicted that Chernomyrdin, an ally of Yeltsin, would use the vote to push current Gazprom chief executive Rem Vyakhirev to the sidelines.

It was the second time in five days that a Yeltsin supporter was installed on the board of a major Russian company. On Friday, presidential chief of staff Alexander Voloshin was elected chairman of the board at another giant, Russia's electricity monopoly Unified Energy Systems.

At a news conference after the vote, Chernomyrdin and Vyakhirev denied any rift between them and pledged to work together.

``You mustn't look for a rift between us,'' Chernomyrdin said. ``There are people willing to split Gazprom, but that won't happen.''

The government currently owns a 38-percent controlling interest in Gazprom. It recently sold 4 percent of Gazprom stock to Germany's natural gas giant Ruhrgas to raise money for its near-empty coffers.

Chernomyrdin, 61, was Gazprom's CEO before he joined the Russian Cabinet in 1992. In December of that year he became the Russian prime minister _ a job he held until Yeltsin abruptly fired him in March 1998.

Chernomyrdin dropped from the public eye until NATO launched air strikes on Yugoslavia, when Yeltsin named him presidential envoy for the Kosovo settlement. Chernomyrdin played a key role in negotiating a peace deal that led to the deployment of international peacekeepers in the province.