Exiled Economic Adviser 'Putin Is Afraid of the Public'

In a SPIEGEL interview, prominent Russian economist and former government adviser Sergei Guriev discusses the Kremlin's retaliation campaign against the opposition and why he recently fled to France.


SPIEGEL: Mr. Guriev, why did you flee to France?

Guriev: I was under pressure for months. My wife had already predicted this development three years ago, despite the political thaw under then-President and current Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. She didn't want our children to grow up in a country without freedom, so she decided to move to Paris. I, on the other hand, was still hopeful.

SPIEGEL: At the time, you were part of a small group of people who shaped Medvedev's economic policy. When did you decide to flee?

Guriev: The turning point came in late April, when investigators turned up at my office with a search warrant and seized all of my email correspondence since 2008 -- 45 gigabytes. The same mistakes, in terms of names and spelling, were made on both the court order and the documents the investigators presented. In other words, the court in question simply copied the investigators' documents, with their absurd accusations, and will continue to do so in the future. I felt that it was too dangerous for me to stay.

SPIEGEL: What were you afraid of?

Guriev: That I would be barred from leaving Russia and, in a next step, that I would be arrested. I am a patriot, and I love my country. But I am not willing to give up my freedom. Paris is better than Krasnokamensk.

SPIEGEL: That's the Siberian city near the Chinese border where oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky was held in a prison camp for many years. You are now accused of having been paid by Khodorkovsky to prepare an expert report that recommends his release.

Guriev: That's ridiculous. In 2003, Moscow's New Economic School (NES) received $50,000 (€37,500) from a partner of Khodorkovsky's. I didn't receive a single kopek of that money. I was a visiting professor at Princeton University at the time, and only a year later did I become the rector at NES. Besides, I prepared the expert report in 2011 for then-President Medvedev, together with colleagues.

SPIEGEL: One of them was Otto Luchterhandt, a German legal scholar.

Guriev: He, at least, hasn't had a visit from Moscow yet. Russia is now refusing entry to one of the foreign experts.

SPIEGEL: How is the New Economic School funded?

Guriev: We are a private university. We derive our funding from tuition and donations from Russia and abroad.

SPIEGEL: Of course the Kremlin doesn't like that. Are you disappointed that Medvedev couldn't or wouldn't protect you?

Guriev: I prefer not to comment on that. He's in a difficult situation. No one seems to mention the modernization he promised anymore. (President) Vladimir Putin decides everything.

SPIEGEL: Sergey Markov, a political scientist with ties to the Kremlin, has practically accused you of treason because of your ideas on the privatization of state-owned companies, which Medvedev took up, and he has described you as the intellectual center of the opposition to Putin. Do you intend to overthrow Putin?

Guriev: Of course not. I'm an academic, not a politician.

SPIEGEL: Are we correct to assume that the reason the Kremlin has targeted you is not as much your sympathy for Mikhail Khodorkovsky as your support for opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is currently on trial?

Guriev: Navalny merely gave a talk at our university. Neither he nor other members of the opposition have ever received so much as a kopek from our university.

SPIEGEL: But you donated money privately to Navalny?

Guriev: Yes. It's not forbidden. The equivalent of €250, together with my wife. I'm not a wealthy man. I was trying to send a message that I support Navalny's anti-corruption campaign. Only 16 people dared to do so publicly, including financial magnate Alexander Lebedev. He and most of the others have run into problems.

SPIEGEL: Does Navalny have what it takes to be president?

Guriev: What impresses me is that he isn't afraid. He is prepared to fight to the end and go to prison for his convictions. I'm not willing to do that. Navalny is by far the most impressive of all of the opposition politicians. That's precisely why they are now trying to launch a show trial against him, which could put him behind bars for a few years, even though the accusations are baseless. I'm not sure who would win if there were free elections and Putin and Navalny had to debate each other on television. But Putin has never participated in such debates.

SPIEGEL: Navalny has no experience whatsoever in political office. He sympathizes with nationalists, and when he demands that Putin and his team be thrown in prison, he is flatly provoking a harsh reaction from the Kremlin.

Guriev: I don't like this furor. I don't agree with him on other issues, either. I don't like the fact that he wants to introduce a progressive tax, or that he used to march at the very front during the nationalists' "Russian march." We've had intense arguments about that. Navalny has changed his position and didn't attend the nationalists' march last year. Like every politician, he is evolving.

SPIEGEL: Three days after Putin's re-election in March 2012, you said that the president clearly knows the difference between the fates of Italy's former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. What did you mean by that?

Guriev: Berlusconi was voted out of office and is enjoying life. But Gadhafi held onto power for so long that a revolution ended up flushing him away and he was killed.

SPIEGEL: What don't you like about Vladimir Putin?

Guriev: The problem isn't Putin or Medvedev. It's the policies Putin has pursued since his return to the Kremlin. I still like many of his campaign promises, his programmatic articles and his initial decrees. For example, shortly after he took office there was talk of moving Russia up the ladder in a rating of countries based on business-friendly policies. But because that isn't happening, capital flight is on the rise, and Russian stocks are significantly undervalued compared to Brazilian or Polish stocks. Investors don't have confidence in Russia.

Discuss this issue with other readers!
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frankb022000@yahoo.com 06/13/2013
1. Psuedo communist president Putin
I thought hard about the title of my comments because I don't know what category to put him in. He is not a Tsar because his family has no power. He is not quite a dictator yet but I think it is coming. One more sham of an election and a change of or total disregard of their Constitution and he will be a tyrannical dictator. I wonder if diplomats tell him that they know his trumped charges to jail and destroy political opposition are just that and he is fooling no one.
titus_norberto 06/14/2013
2. There are more than 7 trillion people in the world...
There are more than 7 trillion people in the world, thus, the ban on American people to adopt Russian children is OBSCENE and RACIST... This line of argument against the Russian government is surrealistic to say the least, American people can adopt from Canada or Latin America or Africa or China, or even England or Germany or Poland if there is a white racist concern… The issue of "Russian adoptions" always stroke me as something completely bizarre viewed from BOTH sides of the equation… But more bizarre, in my view, is the fact that NONE NOTICED in the mass media how bizarre it IS, and I am using "bizarre", which is a word I've never used before to my recollection, because it sounds REPUGNANT.
frankb022000@yahoo.com 06/14/2013
3. Putin the dictator?
I made this a question because I am not sure what to call him, I mean he was elected, However his increasing repression of political opposition and mysterious deaths outside the country have the hallmarks of being a dictator along with its inherent insecurities. What will happen at the next election is anyone's guess. I would very much like to know what Putin says when confronted with the trumped up fraud and other charges against his opposition. I posted a similar response yesterday but it has noy appeared
spon-facebook-10000386281 06/15/2013
4. optional
DEMOCRATIC MINDED EASTERN-EUROPEAN POLITICIANS NEED MORE PROTECTION FROM THE WEST. SPECIFICALLY: A PLACE TO RETIRE IN A WESTERN DEMOCRACY AND DIPLOMATIC STATUS. In Eastern Europe presently we are watching unfold a new evolving chapter of the Cold War. China, Russia, America and the EU are all vying for hegemony in this area. The Chinese are usually the most successful in these regards since they use terror and blackmail to obtain what they want. Allegedly, China has set up a secret bio/chemical weapons factory in the Ukraine as an example of their deplorable plans vis a vis military weapons build-up. China also has, throughout history, had a toxic rivalry with Russia and the Soviet Union. They are seeking to encircle Russia with unfriendly neighbours just as China is now and has been throughout its history. It is likely that individuals who are seeking to advance China's interests in Eastern Europe, such as Victor Yanukovich has been given a promise of safe harbour in China if he is ever faced with legal prosecution in Europe. We must, therefore, grant sanctuary for Eastern-European politicians who are working to promote democracy or to enfeeble China's influence in this area of Europe. No politicians will work for the best interests of the west and democracy in Eastern-Europe if they do not receive any support from us. Yulia Tymoshenko, the former Ukrainian president who worked to advance democracy in her country has been sentenced to jail for perpetuity! Also, any high-level Eastern European politician who takes on China or works to promote democracy must receive a place to live in a western democracy along with diplomatic status. Otherwise it is obvious that most will end up behind bars, or worse, just as Tymoshenko has. I believe that the eastern European spy agencies have the irrefutable proof of Chinese communist/Italian mafia atrocities being committed towards the democratic peoples in the west which could save us a lot of work in setting up a crimes against humanity trial against these two groups. Also, I believe that they have irrefutable evidence of Italian mafia collusion with Chinese communists. We must support these nascent democracies. The worst possible fate for Eastern-Europe is if they fall out of the Soviet communist frying-pan into the Chinese communist fire!
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