Friday, May 31, 2013

The Flight of Sergei Guriev

"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.

Barkley Rosser

8 comments:

kievite said...

A couple of corrections:

1. Navalny is not in jail, he is on trial for creating a phony intermediary between a state company and its customers by abusing his status of the region governor adviser.

2. Guriev is accused of taking money from Khodorkovsky fund while writing his "friends of the court" evaluation of the case.

A couple of observations:

1. Relationship with people like Lawrence Summers protégé does not represent anything positive; moreover they suggest that Guriev might have been a member of Russian "fifth column" -- neoclassical economists who tried to sell Russia to the the west and get some change for their services. Is so, escape to West is a typical development. He is not the first, London is full of such people.

2. Late Boris Berezovsky managed to get to the level of Correspondent member of the Russian Academy of Sciences. That does not make him less criminal, then he was.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

kievite,

1. Thank you for the correction on Navalny. Indeed, he is merely on trial, although given the current character of the Russian court system, there is no doubt the outcome of this trumped charge and polotical trial. Very few accept your characterization of the case that he "abused" his status. Even if he did create a "phony" intermediary, it is well known that many do such things but only those who oppose Putin get arrested for them.

2. I have seen no independent confirmation of even the charge about Guriev taking funds from Khodorkovsky. Reports I have seen say that the Navalny case is what they are trying to get him on, but then, as no charges have been filed, who knows what he is being charged with. However, this sort of drivel would be the sort that sycophantic Putin worshippers would try to spread. As it is, even if Khodorkovsky deserved his first sentence, this second one is a complete travesty that Guriev showed courage being willing to contest publicly. You simply show yourself to be a pathetic propagandist with this garbage.

1+, On the matter of Shleifer and Guriev's advocacy of pretty straight neoclassical economics, you have more sympathy from me, and I hinted as much in my post, and I expected somebody to bring up Shleifer, whose worst crime is not being an associate of Summers, it was the attemtped coverup by Summers of his favoritism towards Shleifer after Harvard had to settle with the US government for $22 million that brought Summers down from his presidency. Shleifer is of course of Russian origins, and it was his involvement with a misuse of US AID funds in Russia in the 90s that got him in trouble.

As it is, the closer link between Shleifer and Guriev is through the wife of the latter, who was a student of Shleifer's at Harvard. I am not at all a personal fan of Shleifer's, but he happens to be the most cited living economist and very original and inventive, despite his clouded personal history. Those who study with him tend to become excellent economists, and it is to Guriev's credit that he has hired some to be on the faculty at RESH.

Regarding Guriev's neoclassicism, most of his research is not on macro, where I would prefer to see a less neoclassical apparoach, but on micro, contract theory, industrial organization, corporate governance, and some other areas, with much of his research relevant to trying to overcoming corruption in the corporate state sort of regime that currently is running Russia. Pretty much all of the top businessmen are corrupt lawbreakers, but the only ones who got prosecuted are those who question Putin. You are just a mouthpiece for this sort of propaganda, and the idea that Guriev is some sort of front man for westerneers buying up Russia is just the sort of sick garbage being peddled by the gangster Slivovki who run Russia now and that so many fools and stooges like yourself are trying to sell to others. Sorry, kievite, nobody outside of Putin's gangs are bugin any of this.

As for Berezovsky, more trumped up political charges against a man now dead (how many have Putin had killed, please?). He is no more criminal than Putin himself, indeed much less so than Putin, who is a disgusting murderer and liar. You should be ashamed of yourself for spouting such garbage lies and propaganda, kieviet. Go back and shoot some anti-Putin decmonstraters in the street, you worthless scum.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

I should probably comment that I became incensed at seeing this sort of crap comment here, although I suppose I should not be surprised. Those who know me well know that my wife is Russian and that she suffered under the old Soviet regime, whose conduct the current Putin regime seems to be imitating. I had no use for lying mouthpieces of the regime then, and I have none now, with this "kievite" coming across as exactly the sort of thuggish individual that both my wife and I had to deal with back then (she was arrested and tortured).

I should also confess that I know Guriev personally and I published a paper by him in JEBO when I edited it. I have a lot of respect for him personally and professionally, and I have yet to see anybody provide any real evidence of any corruption on his part. This is just Puting trying to silence his critics and consolidate his increaaingly unpopular power in Russia, supported by propagandists like kievite in whatever line he puts out to justify his actions.

marknesop said...

Big deal. My wife is Russian also, as is all of my family living in my home except for me (more or less; our daughter was born here, but speaks fluent Russian and English at the six-year-old level). My wife and family are extremely proud of their country, and although I am sure they prefer living here, they are as upset by criticism of Russia as I would be of criticism about Canada heard abroad.

Therefore I have as much right to condemn expatriate Russian pseudo-liberal meddlers like the toad Berezovsky as you have to praise them. He was called a liar in so many words by an experienced British trial judge who had plenty of opportunity to review his testimony, and there is no reason to believe he had even a nodding acquaintance with the truth.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

marknesop,

I most certainly did not praise Berezovsky. I simply said that the proof that he was a "criminal" as "kievite" (a Ukrainian, really?), claimed. My view on him is that most of the Oligarchs were/are technically criminals, but only those criticizing Putin get prosecuted or assassinated. Do you support all the assassinations of journalists on the streets of Moscow who have criticized Putin? Get real.

If you, or anybody else trying to justify the unjustifiable under the Putin regime wants to engage in a serious discussion of economics, I am open. Both in my post and my reply to "kievite," I made clear that I do not agree fully with economic views of Guriev. But, so far, the comments I have gotten from the likes of you remind me of old KGB thugs in black leather jackets who used to brag to me about listening to my phone calls in the US while torturing my wife. You, m., need to prove that you are above that sort of disgusting garbage, since the regime you are defending shoots its critics in the streets. Get real, govno.

AK said...

(1) Guriev is Ossetian, not Chechen - at least according to the Russian Wikipedia page on him.

(2) "kievite" is a Ukrainian. Being an online acquaintance of his is how I came to this blog post.

(3) You may, of course, think of Putin whatever you wish to - I couldn't care less. (Though ad homing and banning dissenting commentators who come here probably isn't going to do much for your credibility).

That said, and being utterly disinterested in exchanging polemics or barbs with you, it is nonetheless worth pointing out that Guriev himself doesn't believe Putin is behind the harassment he alleges he experienced from the ICR. From today's FT, by Ben Aris:

The whole episode is embarrassing for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been calling for improvements to Russia’s investment climate. According to Guriev, Putin has reassured him that he will come to no harm, but clearly Guriev was not confident that even Putin could protect him. …

While Guriev has been outspoken on economic issues and warned that the current policies will lead to economic stagnation, he is usually a lot more circumspect when it comes to politics. He was again on Friday when asked who was to blame for the attack.

“I have no complaints about either Vladimir Putin or Dmitry Medvedev. I heard them say that nothing is threatening me and that they will not interfere in the work of the investigative committee. I respect such an approach and believe that it is wrong to ask the president of the country to interfere on each occasion,” Guriyev told the Ekho Moskvy radio station.


You can make of that what you will.

Best,
AK.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

AK,

First, and for the record, I do not ban or censor anybody and never have. Where did you get such a silly idea from anyway?

Thank you for assuring me that kievite really is a Ukrainian, although he is clearly a fairly pro-Putin one.

I am not going to apologize for blowing up, although I did. I have some personal history and knowledge of these matters that I alluded to and it is unpleasantly extensive. I know a lot more about unpleasant conduct by people in Moscow than I am going to talk about here, only to repeat that a lot of what has been going on (and, no, clearly Guriev has not been gunned down in a street or poisoned or... at least not yet) resembles those bad old days. Kievite's apparent attempt to defend this set me off.

I am not going to dispute what Guriev's ethnic identity or background is. Both Chechens and Ossetians come from the Caucasus region generally. I have been told by knowledgeable people (not him) that he is of Chechen ancestry, but that could easily be wrong. Maybe he has mixed ancestry. I know that people are still arguing about whether Stalin was part Ossetian or just all Georgian. As for Russian Wikipedia, I am aware of errors in entries there, although will not list those here and now...

I have seen Guriev quoted as saying he has no specific fight with Putin. That Putin is now making friendly noises also makes sense, and indeed because this has become internationally embarrassing and a threat to Russian economic growth. However, anyone who thinks that those behind this are acting on the presumption that Putin was for it are almost certainly correct. It may be that Putin wishes now to scale it back, given all the negative international publicity, not to mention that Guriev has much support among many influential people in Moscow, as indicated by his being reelected with the largest vote of any candidate to the Sberbank board, even though he attempted to withdrew his nomination. They would not let him.

Oh, and I cannot let this go by without sneering at the New York Times for spelling "Sberbank" as "Sherbank" in their latest article on all this, :-).

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

Just saw a post on Facebook of an interview between Guriev and Mikhail Fishman (I am an FB friend of Sergei's).

He said that when the NES (RESH) board tried to find out why he was being investigated, they received no adequate replies. Apparently the investigation is now "sealed." This means Guriev could be arrested and held indefinitely in solitary without being formally charged while the investigation proceeds.

It appears to be linked to the second Yukos trial (see claims by kievite). He notes that several expert witnesses in that case besides himself are now dead.

The investigator seizing his records told him that he was in better shape than "Academician Sakharov, at least for now."

He was detained for an hour while they messed with his passport on leaving.

He appealed to Medvedev, who told him all was OK, but Putin's line is that he "cannot stand in the way of the investigation," a well-known formulation meaning that he could be arrested and thrown into solitary. He is not going to return (at least not anytime soon) because of the "security situation."