Guriev Departure: A Worrying Signal

May 30, 2013

The news this week that the prominent economist Sergei Guriev has resigned from his posts and has departed for France—perhaps permanently—is the latest in a series of rumored planned emigrations by liberal public figures such as journalist Masha Gessen.

As has been recounted in translations published on The Interpreter this week, Guriev’s resignations and his alleged departure are thought to have been motivated by increased pressure from the government after he was interviewed by investigators last month over his links to political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Guriev has managed the unconventional position of supporting opposition figures including Khodorkovsky and Alexei Navalny, as well as maintaining the establishment roles of rector of the New Economic School and board member of Sberbank and the Russian Venture Company. If he has, in fact, quit Russia for good, this should send a worrying signal about the trajectory of the country.

Indeed, Guriev’s alleged departure rather contradicts the pro-business narrative the government is currently attempting to promote in the form of a proposal for amnesty for up to 1,200 “economic criminals”—many of them entrepreneurs who fell afoul of the state for one reason or another. This mooted gesture was no doubt intended to calm the anxieties of domestic and international business frightened by the arbitrariness of the rule of law and countries deeply-politicized “state capitalism,” yet the climate remains intensely hostile towards individuals and institutions who criticize or oppose the state in any way.

If Guriev’s departure turns out to be permanent, it should give pause for those seeking reassurance of the government’s turn towards a more hands-off, benign model of political and economic governance.