The fleeing of Sergei Guriev, under political pressure, to France, has sparked a wave of commentary about the status of Russia’s liberal elite, with prominent liberal voices shaking their heads in disbelief at the extent of Vladimir Putin’s purge and what it means for Russia’s future.
Three writers today expressed similar views of the implications of Guriev’s packing up: the general feeling of shock is summed up by Masha Gessen, who noted that, ‘If [Guriev] believes he could have gone to jail, then anyone could.’ Many are shocked that Guriev did not feel he had more protection, given his high-level contacts. But the Kremlin are now operating with ‘total impunity’, says Vladimir Ryzhkov:
As in the Soviet era, everything foreign is now suspect — even the overseas contacts of Russia’s top economists and scientists. The paranoia of the Chekists has become the main force behind the regime’s erratic punitive actions. Putin’s police state operates with total impunity, and the only opposition to this bacchanalia are the indignant cries of a diminishing group of intellectuals and the few remaining liberal media outlets. The courts continue rubber-stamping arrest and search warrants, while the great mass of Russians show little interest in events, if they even know about the state’s unprecedented crackdown on dissent.
And finally Masha Lipman, writing in the New Yorker, compares the Soviet-era emigrés with those leaving Russia today. Soviet emigrés were unfamiliar with the Western world, she says, but modern day Russians are:
on par with their Western counterparts. They are at home in the global world, have first-class professional skills, speak perfect English, and have experience working and travelling in the West. They could make Russia a better place, but Russia might not be interested. Putin’s government, like that of his Soviet predecessors, looks on indifferently as these people take their skills elsewhere. Losing Russia’s best citizens, in the politicians’ eyes, is an acceptable price for power.