"Better Paris than Krasnokamensk," Sergei Guriev tweeted shortly before departing from Moscow for Paris, where his wife Ekaterina Zhuravskaya, is a professor at the Paris School of Economics, Krasnokamensk being a notorious prison camp. He is officially visiting at Sciences Po temporarily, but most think he has left Moscow for good, resigning from his position as Rector of the New Economic School (NES, although "Russki Ekonomicheski Shkola" in Russian ("Russian Economic School"), and known there as "RESH" rather than "NES," sort of like how Russian food stores in the US have titles in English such as "International Food Market," while the sign in Russian says, "Russki Magazin," ("Russian store")), even though officials at NES (RESH) say that he is only on leave or on vacation, or whatever. He has also reportedly resigned from a board overseeing Russia's largest bank, the still partly state-owned and trusted by the grandmothers to hold their money, Sberbank.
This sudden departure must be viewed as very significant. The 41-year old Guriev, a Chechen who made it to and in Moscow from the sticks, has played a unique role in Moscow in recent years, both advising former President and now Prime Minister Medvedev, while also maintaining links with dissidents such as Andrei Navalny and coauthoring a report criticizing the second round of jailing of oil baron, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and also serving as the leading link between western economists such as Andrei Shleifer and the rising economists in Moscow, such as those at NES (RESH) and its rival, the Higher Economic School (VWISH), both of them started since the end of the Soviet Union. The simplest explanation is that he may simply have been trying to be too many things to too many people and sides, but one of them would not put up with it any longer.
That side would be President Putin and those around him. He was known to be unhappy about Guriev's support of Khodordovsky. However, the reported investigation that was closing in on Guriev and was most likely to result in his arrest involved his relationship with Navalny, now imprisoned, who has been viewed as the main leader of the anti-Putin demonstrations of recent years that have combined aspects of the Occupy movements of the West with more traditional Russian dissident movements, such as gathering at the statue of Pushkin at the intersection of the Garden Ring road and Tverskaya street (formerly Gorky street) before setting off for wherever they would eventually end up to occupy before enduring breaking up and arrests by the police. Navalny is in jail because of what his supporters say are trumped up charges involving advice he gave a regional leader about certain economic deals. Supposedly Guriev sent money to Navalny, although that would not seem in and of itself to be a criminal offense, but perhaps the authorities will try to link Guriev to whatever it is that Navalny has been jailed for. As it is, Russian blogs supporting Putin have been denouncing Guriev and claiming that he is corrupt and involved with many businesses (the latter is true, but essentially no evidence of the former has been put forward).
However, it may well be that his worst crime has been serving as a top adviser to Medvedev, whom Putin used to need but apparently now views as a rival and a nuisance to be put in his place. No better way to do that than to bust his top advisers.
It is far from clear what will follow from this. Certainly a message has been sent. If you want to advise the government or be involved in local politics, then just as with NGOs you had better not be involved with the political opposition to Putin and you had better not have too many foreign links. Liberalizing think tanks and academic outfits like NES(RESH) and VWISH may be allowed to more or less do their things, mostly research and training people for Master's degrees in economics to go to the West to earn PhDs who have strong undergraduate credentials in math or physics, much like Guriev himself, who came out of such institutes in Vladikavkaz and Kiev to eventually get a PhD in applied math before getting an econ PhD at MIT prior to becoming Rector of NES in 2004. People at these places will have to keep their heads down if they want to stay in business.
One can argue about whether the kind of economics that is being taught at NES and VWISH is what Russia really needs or not. However, the existing institutions left over from the Soviet era such as Moscow State University or the Central Institute of Mathematical Economics (TsEMI) are either stuck in a leftover swamp of the Soviet era with little of use to say or are highly mathematical and theoretical, if at a high level, such as TsEMI, out of which the NES was formed with the two sharing the same building on Nakhimovsky street in southern Moscow. TsEMI has such acclaimed figures as Econometric Society Fellow Victor Polterovich, but he and his colleagues tend to be far removed from policy discussions. Thus it is not surprising that they would support the founding of NES, even if the latter may have gotten into hot water for it, or at least particularly its very active Rector.
In any case, whatever one thinks of Guriev's views on economics, he has been a critic of arbitrary power and corruption and a supporter of democratic opposition to this entrenchment and re-entrenchment of such power. His sudden departure cannot be viewed as anything other than a very unfortunate sign of what is going on in Russia both politically and intellectually.