Science policy Universities

Andrei Yakovlev: “Through the FSB, HSE was transferred from the economic security service to the service for the protection of the constitutional order and the fight against terrorism”

Why did the Higher School of Economics find itself in the worst position among all the new famous universities that emerged in post-Soviet Russia? At what point did the era of solidarity with state ideology begin at the university? Was the pressure on Yaroslav Kuzminov pressure on the university itself or on the head of the Central Bank of the Russian Federation, Elvira Nabiullina ? What are the reasons and consequences of including the HSE on the sanctions list? The former vice-rector of the National Research University Higher School of Economics, now a visiting researcher at the Davis Center at Harvard, Andrei Yakovlev analyzes for T-invariant the experience of a leading university both in terms of success and and in part of the decline of this big project.

Andrei Yakovlev: Candidate of Economic Sciences.
Worked at HSE from September 1993 to August 2023, including 1993-2012 as vice-rector.
At different periods, as vice-rector, he was responsible for applied and academic research, financial and strategic management, and organization of the HSE April International Academic Conference.
Research interests: state-business relations, corporate governance, industrial policy, public procurement, incentives for bureaucracy.
In 2002-2003. — Fellow of the Humboldt Foundation.
In 2015-2019. — President of the Association of Russian Economic Think Tanks (ARETT).
In 2017 he was awarded the Yegor Gaidar Memorial Prize in Economics.
Since October 2022 — visiting scholar at the Davis Center at Harvard University.

T-invariant: In the first half of the 90s, several new unique universities were created in Russia. These are Shaninka — Moscow School of Higher Social and Economic Sciences, and the European University , and NES — Russian Economic School , and the Higher School of Economics. The task of these universities was to produce new personnel and new knowledge in the field of social and humanitarian disciplines. But each of these projects was created according to its own model. Almost 30 years have passed, and now they are all in a difficult situation. Does this mean the decline of generally strong socio — humanitarian universities in Russia?

Andrei Yakovlev: Indeed, these universities were created at about the same time, but now the situation at the Higher School of Economics and the rest of the universities you named is different. Yes, all four projects are experiencing serious problems, because they were focused on introducing new educational standards to Russia and close cooperation with foreign partners, integration into global academic networks. Now this is either very limited or completely impossible. However, this rollback from the original tasks in the case of the Higher School of Economics is felt much more strongly.

Ti: Why? Because HSE, as your colleague Igor Lipsits put it , has “turned into a silent university” ?

AY : No, that’s not why. Now something similar can be said about NES, and about the European University, and about Shaninka. Well, especially about Shaninka after all the criminal cases against the former rector Sergei Zuev.

Ti: Then why ?

AY: Because we have not yet seen a single professor from the European University, NES or Shaninka who would call for nuclear strikes on Europe. And at the Higher School of Economics there is such a person, and we all know him .

Moreover, there is even an official decision by the ethical commission of the HSE Academic Council that there are no problems with such statements. Although before this, it was precisely the same ethical commission, based on much less loud statements of the personal point of view of other professors, that made the exact opposite judgment. Let us also note that the leaders of Shaninka, the European University and NES do not travel to Donbass. Well, and, as far as I know from colleagues from these universities, they still maintain a fairly high degree of academic self-government, which in fact was one of the fundamental features of these new universities at the time of their creation.

Ti: To people new to the Russian university system, it is quite difficult to explain the public attention that is focused on HSE and its current state. Sometimes even bewilderment arises: “Well, a large university is deteriorating, but why such sorrow?! There are Moscow State University, St. Petersburg State University, RANEPA — the situation there is also not developing for the better. Why is there no such reaction about them? “If you were talking to an American,  How would you explain : “Imagine that in America, suddenly, in a year and a half, things have completely changed…” What?

AY : Good question! In fact, there will be no analogue, because the significance of the Higher School of Economics over the past, well, at least twenty years has been determined by the fact that it was not only a university, but also one of the largest analytical centers working for the government and society as a whole. This is quite important. In this sense, the US educational environment is structured differently. There are many strong universities there, comparable and competing with each other. And the gap that was felt in Russia between HSE and other universities, at least working in the field of social sciences and humanities, is not such a gap either in the States, or in Germany, or in France. In the USA and Western Europe, universities differ from each other by orders of magnitude.

At the same time , when it comes to analytics for the government or for society, in the States and Europe it is not the universities themselves who are engaged, but the so-called think tanks — compact and autonomous analytical centers .

Ti: But you are now in one of these centers at Harvard ?

AY : Yes, the Davis Center, where I now work , specializes in research on Russia and the former Soviet Union. This is an interdisciplinary academic center where there are simultaneously philologists , historians, cultural scientists , and political scientists, but almost no economists . But this is not even close to comparable with the institutes that were and still are at HSE , such as the Institute of Education, the Institute of State and Municipal Administration , the Institute of Social Policy or the Institute of Economics of Knowledge and Statistical Research , where in total several hundred experts work and each Dozens of large projects are being implemented every year . The peculiarity of the Higher School of Economics was that for a long time it combined a university with academic values and a kind of state committee for all kinds of reforms . I don’t know of similar examples .

Ti: Returning to those four new universities . Together with them, the tower began as a small School . How did it become that HSE , at the same time an analytical center and a classical research university ? Where did she come from ?

AY: At the beginning of their creation, all four universities relied on bringing normal standards of education in the social sciences to Russia. It was necessary to overcome the legacy of the Soviet period. Social sciences in the Soviet Union were prevented from developing by ideological blinders , the need to study Marxist-Leninist political economy and scientific communism, and what became real science in the West in the last hundred years could, at best, be studied in a special storage facility , if there was access.

This catastrophic state of the social sciences largely predetermined the collapse of the Soviet Union. Because even those people who sincerely wanted to change something in the country did not understand what was happening around them. New universities arose due to an acute shortage of people with a normal education and normal qualifications, who were in demand in government and business. A market economy began to take shape, and a need arose for economists, managers, lawyers , and sociologists. There was a demand for them, coming from the economy and from the public administration system. With all due respect to the honest, not at all corrupt officials who worked in the USSR Gosplan system and who ended up in the Russian Ministry of Economy in the early 1990s, it was impossible to expect them to effectively manage the new economy; they grew up in a different reality.

Therefore, the first task for all four universities was to try to bring the standards of normal education in social sciences and economics to Russian soil. But at the same time, all these universities also had broader ambitions, trying not only to educate students, but also to produce new ideas for society and the state. This happened in different ways. During the period when Sergei Guriev was the rector of NES, it was a fairly influential center that generated ideas that were in demand among President Dmitry Medvedev’s circle. The European University has traditionally worked quite a lot with various people from St. Petersburg , who later ended up in the federal government. For example, the European University interacted very actively with Alexei Kudrin within the framework of the Center for Strategic Research in 2016-17. Then such partners on the side of the state apparatus helped the university when there were political attacks on it from the security bloc. Shaninka did a lot of important things in the field of social research. And the position of its founder Theodor Shanin was precisely to not just teach students, but to bring a new understanding of social processes to Russian society.

What distinguished HSE from them in this sense? Firstly, Kuzminov’s level of ambition is much greater. Because from the very beginning Kuzminov wanted to create not just a new university, but a large and influential one. Yes , HSE began with a small structure called a “college”. This is exactly how it was designated within the framework of the application for a grant from the European Commission, on the basis of which the Higher School of Economics emerged. But Kuzminov wanted much more from the very beginning.

I remember well the situation in the second half of the 90s and the beginning of the 2000s, when there was talk about his possible departure to the government. However, from a certain point Kuzminov no longer wanted to leave, because as rector of the Higher School of Economics he became more influential than some ministers. As a minister, he would have to be directly responsible for the results of the ministry’s activities. And in the role of a status adviser who influences decision-making, but is not responsible for their implementation, he was in a much more advantageous position. And he understood this well. As far as I know, the position of Sergei Guriev was somewhat similar during a certain period. But neither in the case of the European University, nor in the case of Shaninka, as far as I know, did their leaders have such political ambitions.

The second important difference between HSE and similar projects is its focus on a larger scale . Perhaps this is why HSE – unlike other new universities — was created as a state organization. This status imposed its limitations , but also provided additional opportunities for growth. In many ways, it was this bet on scale that led to significant consequences. I think that the European University, NES and Shaninka were able to maintain a specific , fairly free academic microclimate precisely because they remained small organizations.

This microclimate also existed at the Higher School of Economics in the 1990s. It is characteristic that there were no significant differences between HSE as a government organization and NES, the European University and Shaninka as non-state universities. There was no distance between employees , and everyone — from the senior lecturer to the rector — could freely communicate with each other. But when tens of thousands of students already study at a university and thousands of employees work, a bureaucratic hierarchy, characteristic of large organizations, inevitably arises. And, since HSE quite quickly moved into the category of large organizations, it is more correct to compare it with other large Russian universities, such as Moscow State University, MGIMO or the Financial Academy. So, the fundamental difference was that Kuzminov was never afraid to invite strong people to his team. He tried to bring together unconventionally thinking people at HSE, who, among other things, had been arguing with him for a long time. Maybe in recent years this was not entirely true, but at least for the first 15-20 years there were active discussions both at the rector’s office and at the academic council. That is, it was real academic self-government in a large structure, which was completely atypical for universities with a Soviet past.

The consequence of this model has been a wide variety of educational innovations. Among them we can name the International Institute of Economics and Finance (ICEF) as a very successful double degree program with the University of London, with which the HSE began the process of hiring teachers on the international market; the process of admitting applicants strictly on the basis of formalized tests, which began at HSE long before the introduction of the Unified State Exam; international laboratories, scientific and educational laboratories, dissertation councils with dissertation defense committees and the entire process of reproduction of academic personnel; internal incentive system and evaluation system for teachers and researchers; the system of basic schools and interaction with them; model of HSE branches, which was fundamentally different from that of other universities, and allowed HSE regional campuses to become full-fledged competitors of local classical universities.

At the same time, Kuzminov always had an element of authoritarianism in his management style, but he invited people to HSE who were able to object to him. And, even if later, for various reasons, such people were relegated to less visible positions, they still remained at the university. Kuzminov remained loyal to his employees for a long time, even if these employees did not agree with him.

Ti: Quite recently, one of the significant people for HSE, Evgeniy Grigorievich Yasin, passed away. What was his role?

AY: As far as I remember from the words of direct participants, the original idea of the HSE (later drawn up in the form of an application for the first European grant) was born in dialogues between Kuzminov and Yasin. Then, in the early and mid-1990s, Yasin helped with attracting external grants for the development of the Higher School of Economics, as well as with the transfer to the Higher School of Economics of the buildings of the Economic Academy and the Institute of Microeconomics (the former State Planning Research Institute). However, Yasin’s role in the 2000s was much greater: it was through his efforts that the public liberal image of the Higher School of Economics was largely created. In this regard, the comment of one HSE graduate to post about the death of Yasin: “Evgeniy Grigorievich is alone one of those people who made me decide to go to HSE . And then , already studying at HSE , I went to Pokrovka as a free listener to his brilliant and incredibly fascinating lectures on the history of Russian reforms . Evgeny Grigorievich is the face of Russia as a country that I would like to see — kind, peaceful, bright, open, free, striving for the most important ideals and values, for changing Russia and its people for the better.”

Ti: Tell us how HSE got rich. You have already said that it began as a college with grant money from the European Union . Where did the money come from to turn it into a prestigious , wealthy university ? One of the persistent myths around HSE is related to the fact that financial resources for its development were provided thanks to the Kuzminov-Nabiullina family tandem. Moreover, until 2008, the HSE was under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Economic Development of Russia, and already in 2008 it came under the jurisdiction of the Government of the Russian Federation. But you oversaw HSE’s finances for quite a long time and saw how it all began. How was it really?

AY : Yes, I also heard such conversations, but this has nothing to do with reality. To better understand the context: from the fall of 1993, for fifteen years, I interacted with Kuzminov almost on a daily basis  I also knew Nabiullina for a long time — from the time I studied at Moscow State University (she studied two years older than me and was a graduate student with Yasin when I wrote my diploma with him). Then we met at the Expert Institute and at the Ministry of Economy, where she came when Yassin became minister. As her career progressed, there were fewer interactions, but what I know about Nabiullina is that she is an exceptionally scrupulous person. And it was from the moment of her appointment as minister in 2007 (when she had the opportunity to really influence significant financial resources) that serious internal discussions began at the Higher School of Economics about how to leave the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Economic Development. Because due to Nabiullina’s character, it was obvious to HSE top managers that now they would have to work twice as hard in the area of expert analytics without any additional money. Largely due to this circumstance, the university came under the wing of the government.

Ti: Was it necessary to avoid a direct conflict of interest ?

AY : Yes. But not only. The fact is that Kuzminov has already developed a financial strategy that, with the arrival of Nabiullina, would have become unrealizable. Kuzminov relied on advanced development, i.e. he constantly invested in attracting new strong teachers, launching new programs and projects, and creating new departments. For such purposes, in the financial plan there was an item “rector’s reserve”, and at the year level, expenses were balanced with income. But the issued obligations were long, and therefore, beyond the year, a shortage of financial resources inevitably arose. Therefore, Kuzminov constantly requested additional resources from the federal budget, promising new results, but at the same time covering old obligations with new resources. This approach gave rise to a kind of “pyramid”, which in the case of Nabiullina was in no way possible. Her firmness in such matters is well known. By the way, I think that this, in addition to her personal competence, is the reason why Nabiullina still remains in the system of power. No security officials who may be dissatisfied with what she is doing as head of the Central Bank can personally present anything to her. In my opinion, the noticeable pressure on Kuzminov, which occurred from 2019 onwards, was largely pressure not even on the Higher School of Economics, but pressure on Nabiullina. Because she actually already became a more prominent political player than Kuzminov.

T-i: Since we are talking about Nabiullina, her impeccable reputation and high professionalism. What do you think about the sad fact that her diligent work is now supporting a belligerent regime and is actually working against the country? After all, the better the Russian economy is doing, the longer and more successfully the authorities will be able to fight.

AYA: Nabiullina was not alone in this situation, but many people in the Russian government, in regional administrations, and in Russian business – that is, this is a much more general problem.

There is a moral assessment of what is happening. And for many people it is unconditional: this is a criminal regime, we cannot have anything more to do with it, we do not want and we will not. But for many there are other factors and arguments on the other side of the scale.

After the start of the war, I continued to have contacts with business people who remain in Russia. So, many of them have been creating a business for 20-30 years, and they have not just assets and money (this is exactly the thing that can be transferred somewhere if you really want to), but they have teams of employees and have long-time consumers who depend on their supplies, to which these entrepreneurs have obligations.

For people from an academic environment, obligations to relatives and the lack of financial ability to support their families in the event of departure are more understandable. People of Nabiullina’s rank probably don’t have this problem. But there are problems of a different kind. She and her team have done a lot to improve the health of the Russian banking system. Even before Nabiullina came to the Central Bank, quite qualified people worked there. But it was with her that the system became significantly more efficient. And I can assume that Nabiullina proceeds from the fact that sooner or later the war will end and the country will need to be restored. And there is a significant difference – restoring it from complete ruins or from some kind of base. Moreover, she is well aware of the story of the ruins of the 1990s, because she became Deputy Minister of Economy already in 1997.

In such situations, we are dealing with a difficult choice for a particular person. But it periodically occurs among people working in the management system. Consider 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. It was a senseless war that cost many lives and crazy amounts of money, which largely predetermined the economic bankruptcy of the USSR. And then among Soviet citizens, including representatives of the nomenklatura, there were liberal-minded people who were against this adventure. But neither they nor Academician Sakharov, who openly condemned the invasion of Afghanistan, had any ideas: let’s, in this regard, undermine the economy of the Soviet Union and thus stop the war.

So it is now. More than 140 million people live in Russia. In the event of an economic collapse, all residents of Russia will become its victims, the majority of whom have nothing to do with the war and could not influence the decisions about its start.

Understand, I’m not justifying Nabiullina and her team now, but I’m trying to say that the classic “white-coat” reasoning that all officials and businessmen support the criminal regime by any of their actions seems to me a simplification. I can understand people like Nabiullina who do not want to bring the country to complete collapse. Because they have been able to build a lot over the past 20 years.

One way or another, each person makes his own decisions about the limits of compromises that he is ready to make, and then he himself bears responsibility for them.

T-i: Let’s go back to the Tower again. You have already explained that Nabiullina was not the key to HSE’s financial well-being. And what? And who?

AYA: First of all, the personal qualities of Yaroslav Ivanovich Kuzminov associated with his ability to find financial resources and convince the holders of these resources that the allocation of these resources to the Higher School of Economics is justified for them. Kuzminov belongs to a rare type of public entrepreneurs – public entrepreneurs. This is a rare occurrence for the Russian academic environment.

The Higher School of Economics was financially a fairly successful organization already in the 1990s, because a large European grant was allocated for the creation of the Higher School of Economics, then there was a second grant for the dissemination of new standards of economic education in the regions of Russia. Yasin played a big role in this. Both projects were implemented in cooperation with the University of Rotterdam. These grants were spent on classical technical assistance in the form of purchases of equipment, literature, and, very importantly, they included an internship system for HSE teachers in Holland, France and the UK. At this time, against the backdrop of the then chaos, young, recently defended candidates of science were faced with a choice: go into business, go abroad for PhD programs, or still stay in the Russian academy. And HSE could already offer such people normal financial conditions, but not in the form of a guaranteed salary coming from the budget of the then Ministry of Education ania, but in the form of scholarships that were paid as part of these European internships.

But besides money, an equally important factor was vision, a vision of the future and some kind of strategy. This came largely from Kuzminov himself. Moreover, until the early 2000s, the HSE did not have a strategy as a formal document. This sense of perspective arose from personal communications with Kuzminov within the framework of the informal and very comfortable academic microclimate that existed at HSE.

T-i: When did HSE’s financial model change?

AYA: The first such turn occurred in the early 2000s, when there were fewer grants and many more students. If I’m not mistaken, five new faculties were opened in 2002 alone. And only budget reception has more than doubled. With such rapid development, it was necessary to quickly hire many new teachers. Which created the risk of a decline in the quality of education. Before that, HSE collected the cream of the crop from the Russian academic market. And by the beginning of the 2000s, this resource was largely exhausted.

But at the same time, HSE began to receive commercial income: from teaching students, from students in MBA and second higher education programs, from schoolchildren in preparatory courses. Research contracts from various departments also appeared. That is, there was a balance from different sources of funding, which included budget funding (including funds for the maintenance of buildings and capital investments), grants, and money from the market.

And it was then that we agreed that we would begin to invest part of the commercial income coming from the market into academic development ourselves. It was from this that the Scientific Fund arose, which gave internal grants, and a system of academic allowances was created. Kuzminov’s position has always been to increase the salaries of teachers, regardless of which department: economics, history or mathematics they work in. But for me, as the vice-rector, who was responsible for science and finance at that moment, it was obvious that the situation on the market for economists and historians was not at all the same.

The academic bonus mechanism was created to provide incentives to retain strong teachers at HSE. At the same time, the presence of publications was considered as a measurable indicator of participation in research, which, in turn, was considered an important criterion for assessing the level of teachers. The bonuses were only valid for teachers, but they were also available for researchers who had good publications and taught at least 0.25 of the salary. This created incentives for including researchers in the educational process.

T-i: How has the HSE model changed since 2008, when the university came under the government?

AYA: This was the second fork. And the point was not only in the conflict of interests between Nabiullina and Kuzminov, which I already mentioned, but also in the fact that Kuzminov continued to focus on further expansion, on further growth, for which he did not have enough of his own resources. And it was necessary to either slow down this growth or look for other non-market solutions. Because of this, during that period I regularly had disputes with Kuzminov, which first led to my refusal to supervise finances, and then to my departure from the position of functional vice-rector.

The turning point for me was the Academic Council at the end of 2007, when we discussed the financial plan for the next year and at the same time discussed a request to the government for additional money. The justification for this request stated that we are actively investing in academic development, including in the form of academic bonuses, which are financed from the HSE. At the same time, it was announced that academic bonuses would be further increased, the size of which would now exceed the basic salary of teachers. But at the same time, in the same request to the government, data was provided that in addition to additional funds for research, equipment, maintenance of buildings, capital investments, we need money for salaries for cleaners and plumbers, since they are two times lower than the average market in Moscow.

T-i: Have you finally parted ways with Kuzminov on the issue of plumbers and cleaners?

AYA: This was a specific example, essentially the discussion was about whether it is right to tie the development of a university so strongly to state funding. This discussion lasted more than an hour in the presence of the entire Academic Council, and just after that I wrote a letter of resignation from the position of vice-rector, because the Academic Council did not support me. The majority supported Kuzminov, and it was the team’s choice in favor of going to the state and requesting resources for the development of the university. Thus, at the end of the 2000s, a change in the model occurred, when the emphasis was placed on the accelerated attraction of government money through various initiatives to support leading universities: from the research universities program to the 5-100 program. Costs It should be emphasized that the HSE, represented by Kuzminov, actively lobbied for the emergence of such government programs. And through them, not only HSE, but several dozen leading universities received significant financial resources for development. But at the same time, universities were being tied to the state. In particular, during the same period there was a transition from elections to the appointment of rectors.

T-i: Was this a fatal decision? Did you immediately understand that HSE would become a state university not only in terms of money, but also in terms of ideology?

AYA: Discussions on these topics with Kuzminov began in the early 2000s. Then the turning point was the YUKOS case, after which contacts between universities and big businesses not sanctioned by the Kremlin began to raise suspicions. And before that, at the HSE April conferences, at the invitation of Yasin, we had many people from business, including Khodorkovsky. I still believe that it is normal for a large university to maintain contacts simultaneously with various stakeholders, including the state, business, and significant public figures. This is exactly the model I advocated. But Kuzminov had a much more “pro-state” view from the very beginning. In the 2000s, Yasin most actively communicated with business, and Kuzminov actually began to seriously communicate with business already within the framework of the HSE Supervisory Board, where Volodin and then Kiriyenko chaired first. There was such an attraction of business according to the order. And Kuzminov perceived autonomous communication with business rather as a risk.

T-i: Do you want to say that Kuzminov was more afraid of business than the state, and this determined the future vector?

AYA: Rather, there was a combination of two factors. One is to rely on budget funds as the main source of financing. Particularly because it is easier to “account” for the funding received to the state than to business. And the second is the continued quantitative expansion. When we created more and more new faculties and expanded enrollment in the old ones. This was a tool for attracting additional budget funds. But this strategy increasingly tied the HSE to the state.

T-i: So, a bet on government money and a bet on scale. Next fork?

AYA: I’ll start from afar. December 2008, “March of Dissent,” during which HSE students were detained. In January 2009, the Higher School of Economics received a letter from the Moscow City Internal Affairs Directorate demanding that action be taken against these students. As far as I know, letters of this kind also came to other universities, after which such students were expelled. And Kuzminov then gave an official answer in the spirit that people have the right to express their opinions. And if it is proven in court that they actually committed some kind of crime or offense, then we are ready to discuss it. Otherwise, we will have to expel any student who crosses the road at a red light. At that time, such a response to such a request was still possible from the HSE. But then the president was different…

T-i: President for whom “freedom is better than non-freedom “

AYA: Yes, yes, absolutely right. Later, in March 2011, a public discussion between Kuzminov and Navalny took place in the hall of the Academic Council of the Higher School of Economics, moderated by Evgeniy Grigorievich Yasin. All this was…

T-i: Could Evgeniy Grigorievich Yasin influence Kuzminov’s decision-making? And did you want to?

AYA: Regarding Yasin’s influence on Kuzminov’s decisions, I can only say that after resigning from the government and joining HSE, Yasin acted exclusively as an adviser. He could express his opinion, but always left the right to make decisions to Kuzminov as rector. Nevertheless, it was Yasin who in the 2000s largely shaped the image of HSE, which attracted both strong teachers and motivated students to the university. Despite the changes taking place at HSE today, I am confident that this spirit of Yasin will remain in HSE graduates, and I hope that over time HSE will bear the name of Evgeniy Grigorievich.

T-i: At what point did the era of solidarity with state ideology begin?

AYA: According to my feelings, in the period 2012-2014 the situation became irreversible. In 2014, Kuzminov took part in the elections to the Moscow City Duma. From what I heard, he didn’t really want it. But he was urgently asked, because in the previous mayoral elections Navalny gained almost 30% and it was necessary to support Sobyanin, stabilize the situation and fill the Moscow City Duma with people from science, culture, education who do business and do not engage in politics. Kuzminov Sogcaressed. And he began to actually work as a deputy, going from house to house, communicating with people. Valeria Kasamara, who later became vice-rector, actively helped him in this.

Against the backdrop of his participation in the Moscow City Duma, the Higher School of Economics received orders for various research projects from the Moscow government. At the same time, after the 2012 presidential elections, the Higher School of Economics, which had previously worked for various economic departments for many years, refocused on the presidential administration and, in particular, began monitoring the implementation of the “May Decrees.” And since 2014, Volodin (who was the deputy head of the presidential administration and was responsible for domestic policy) became the chairman of the HSE Supervisory Board.

Then the process progressed. Kuzminov did not go to the next elections to the Moscow City Duma in 2019. He has always been distinguished by strong intuition and sent Kasamaru in his place. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Many remember the scandalous episodes of that election campaign.

At the same time, dismissals for political reasons began to become widespread at HSE. In 2018, the Transparency International laboratory led by Elena Panfilova was closed. In 2019, as part of the reorganization of the Department of Political Science and its merger with the Department of Public Administration, a number of well-known political scientists left HSE. In 2020, the Department of Constitutional Law was liquidated with the dismissal of a large group of leading professors who opposed constitutional amendments.

T-i: You described a paradoxical process when Yaroslav Kuzminov’s ambitions related to the development of HSE – both in the scale of tasks, and in the number of faculties, and in the number of students – on the one hand, led to the flourishing of HSE and its development into a leading university. And, on the other hand, these same ambitions of the rector of HSE destroyed it.

AYA: There is nothing paradoxical in this. It is no coincidence that I described Kuzminov as a public entrepreneur. Firm behavior and corporate governance are my main areas of research interest. Stories when a new startup arises, develops successfully, turns into a medium-sized and then a large enterprise, and then grows into a giant holding company, which eventually reaches bankruptcy, such stories are quite typical in business.

I don’t mean that HSE is a business. This is wrong. But certain analogies are possible. Looking back, we see that at some stage of its development, HSE exceeded the scale that allowed it to maintain the academic culture that became the basis for HSE’s reputation in society and in the country.

And in a sense, its current transformation into an ordinary large university that trains personnel is natural. Because, to be honest, modern Russia, the Russia of the last ten years, no longer needed the Higher School of Economics that arose in the 1990s and became bright and noticeable in the 2000s.

Now there is an educational institution that can massively train economists, managers, lawyers, sociologists, psychologists, IT specialists, and at the same time physicists and mathematicians. And it will be in demand. And all sorts of new ideas, especially in terms of integration with global partners, were no longer needed. Moreover, in essence, this was not necessary ten years ago, but amazingly, movement in this direction continued. In my opinion, because there was a 5/100 program with approved funding and the bureaucratic apparatus needed to account for the implementation of this program.

T-i: Kuzminov’s shocking resignation in 2021 – was it a special operation?

AYA: There were elements of a special operation there. Because formally in 2019, Kuzminov had a new appointment to the position of rector for five years. He was going to work until 2024. Although his reassignment was already not easy. Since the end of 2018, a PR campaign against the HSE on topics related to education began in the public field. Before this, there were isolated speeches by individuals, because many of HSE’s initiatives in the field of education met with opposition. But this was not in the nature of a campaign. And what took place in the fall of 2018 was precisely a campaign. Then, at the beginning of 2019, through the FSB, the Higher School of Economics was transferred from the economic security service to the service for the protection of the constitutional order and the fight against terrorism. And I remember how in the spring of 2019, at a meeting dedicated to a new concept for the development of the university, Kuzminov introduced three people who had been sitting somewhere on the side all this time: additional employees were seconded to us who will deal primarily with students, but may also including coming to departments, so be prepared to talk with colleagues.

T-i: Rationale?

AYA: The political situation is becoming more complicated and therefore the leadership of the Higher School of Economics asked the FSB to expand cooperation. It was served like this. However, despite the deterioration of the general situation, Kuzminov, representing in March 2019 at a conference of the labor collective but new concept for the development of the university, continued to rely on maintaining international relations, developing cooperation, hiring teachers on the international market and admitting foreign students. And after presenting such a concept, he was again reappointed rector.

But this did not mean that the situation was not changing. It seems to me that the turning point—not for HSE, but for the country as a whole—was 2018. Before those presidential elections, there were still hopes that domestic politics would change. But after these elections, a “new old government” was appointed, headed by the same Medvedev. By this same moment, the exhaustion of the “Crimean consensus” began to be felt in society, and this is understandable, because people cannot mobilize indefinitely. Especially when they see that the elite has not been particularly mobilized and significant changes are not happening.

At the same time, protests began throughout the country – Arkhangelsk and Shies, Ekaterinburg, Bashkiria, Khabarovsk.

Therefore, I think that getting rid of Kuzminov was due to the fact that by 2021 the risks had increased too much and such a large and influential organization as the Higher School of Economics had to be brought under control. But I note that similar processes were going on at RANEPA when a series of criminal cases began that ended with the resignation of Vladimir Mau.

T-i: Ultimately, Kuzminov’s resignation is Putin’s decision?

AYA: Absolutely. The position of the rector of HSE, like the position of the rector of RANEPA, the rector of Moscow State University or St. Petersburg State University, is the nomenclature of the first person.

T-i: If, by some coincidence, Yaroslav Kuzminov had remained rector today, would this have somehow affected the current state of the HSE already during the war? Or wouldn’t it change anything?

AYA: I think that in the current situation this would hardly affect anything. For example, I remember the situation in 2019 with the arrest of HSE student Yegor Zhukov. Then university teachers wrote a letter in his defense. Kuzminov called members of the Academic Council about this with great emotion.

T-i: You too?

AYA: No, he didn’t call me anymore. Since, due to our very long acquaintance with him, he most likely understood that there was no point in convincing me to revoke my signature. But I had his conversation with another colleague – a member of the Academic Council, to whom Yaroslav Ivanovich explained that signing such letters is very dangerous for the university: “HSE is simply dispersing, and there will be another rector here.”

We must also take into account the factor of too long tenure, when even the most talented and creative people begin to change. Copper pipes matter. In my opinion, for Kuzminov in the early 2020s, maintaining his own place in the elite, involvement in decision-making and access to people who make decisions at the top level was already more important than maintaining the university in its previous form. Based on the results of our last personal long conversation with him in December 2021, I was left with the impression that the post of chairman of the expert council in the government was much more important for him than the position of scientific director at HSE, which he found himself in after resigning from the post of rector.

And Kuzminov’s actions after the start of the war, in my opinion, are also quite indicative, especially in comparison with Nabiullina, who was responsible for a large bloc in the economy and who had obligations to many people whom she brought with her. Kuzminov no longer had such obligations; he was no longer a rector. And he definitely had the opportunity to step aside and, at a minimum, not say anything.

But, as far as I know from my colleagues, Kuzminov is quite active. He demands that representatives of other universities be included in the work of the expert council under the government. On his initiative, the HSE closed IGITIand Budnitsky center. At staff meetings with officials, he regularly makes patriotic speeches, although they are not really expected. They rather want practical advice. Taking all this into account, I think that even if Kuzminov had remained rector, it is unlikely that anything would have changed.

T-i: Then the question arises: why, despite everything you just said, you don’t wanted to leave HSE? You left against your will and in your farewell letter you write that you hope to return to HSE. Although you probably know that one of your colleagues called this letter an optimistic obituary. So what is the reason for your optimism in this sense?

AYA: I do not at all consider my post an obituary for the Higher School of Economics. The Higher School of Economics continues to work and teach students. Yes, quite a lot of researchers and teachers have left, and over time this will have an impact, but, nevertheless, the basic programs are still read in the same format and with approximately the same content as they were three years ago. The educational system is generally inert.

So this is not an obituary at all. Yes, HSE has become different, but it hasn’t gone away. And my optimism is connected with this. I believe that the Higher School of Economics will survive the current political regime, which does not have long to live. I proceed from the fact that the “dark present” will soon end and Russia will need to be restored. This will be done, first of all, by people who are in Russia. And therefore, it is important for me to interact with colleagues and, through contacts with them, to understand what is happening in the country.

T-i: The tower came under sanctions from Canada. What are the consequences? Does this mean that the US and EU will also impose sanctions against her? And doesn’t this change your plans regarding returning to your home university?

AYA: The inclusion of HSE in Canada’s sanctions lists, in my opinion, is a consequence of the already mentioned hyperactivity of the new leadership of HSE in terms of interaction with Lugansk State University, as well as public calls by Professor Karaganov to launch nuclear strikes on Europe. Imposing sanctions on HSE will, of course, further limit opportunities for international cooperation, primarily on a personal level (since institutional cooperation with European, American and Canadian universities was already stopped after the outbreak of the war). I can’t say anything about the plans of the USA and the EU, but this does not affect my plans to return to HSE and Russia, since I associate such a return with political changes in the country, which will be accompanied by a change in the policy of sanctions and the restoration of opportunities for international cooperation in science and education.

T-i: Why don’t you think the situation in Russia is quite stable? You see that there is no dramatic deterioration in the economic situation in Russia; there is a growth in the consumer market, an increase in mortgages, an increase in wages, and some of the people who left Russia at the beginning of the war are returning. They simply cannot feed their families abroad, but in Russia they still can. The country has not become better off, but it is not falling apart either.

AYA: Yes, things in the economy are not as bad as they could be, thanks in part to people like Nabiullina, thanks to the fact that there is a business that is trying to save itself. And thanks to the fact that with all state-owned companies and state-owned corporations, the economy is fundamentally market-based. That is why she is able to adapt to shocks. But the problem is not the economy.

T-i: The problem is politics?

AYA: Of course. And here, in my opinion, there is a radical difference between the situation in 2014 and 2022. In 2014, there was a shock associated with the then sanctions, but at the same time there was a real “Crimean consensus” at the level of the broad masses. One can discuss how it arose and how justified it was, but it was there. And at the same time there were many people in the elite who believed that it was quite possible to live on. Moreover, there were noticeable compensations for many business categories. When people like the Rotenberg brothers were given orders for the Crimean Bridge, and people less close were given good rents in the agricultural complex due to the food embargo.

On the contrary, in 2022, at the level of the top business elite, there are somehow no winners in sight. But there are a lot of losers. I’m not even talking about the top bureaucracy, including Nabiullina, Kudrin, Gref and many others, who for many years built an economic system based on the fact that, despite all the friction with the West, we are part of the global economy. And we are integrated into global markets. And now the country is rapidly moving towards Iran and North Korea. These people will not talk about this publicly now, but they cannot help but understand it.

And when it is no longer Prigozhin, who remained a marginal character for the elite, but a person like deputy Zatulin, known since the 1990s for his trips to Crimea and Sevastopol, at a United Russia event in a large audience saysthat the war is a mistake, this is indicative.

Or the example of the now former director of the Institute of the USA and Canada of the Russian Academy of Sciences Garbuzov, who from his her publication in Nezavisimaya Gazeta actually played the role of the boy from Andersen’s famous fairy tale about the naked king. But we understand that his position is nomenklatura. And suddenly, for some reason, he is drawn to tell the truth – just like during the times of perestroika and glasnost. And at the same time, the same impulse arises from the editor-in-chief of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Mr. Remchukov, who decided to publish not only the original article, but also Professor Garbuzov’s answer. At the same time, Mr. Remchukov has never been a particular liberal, but he has been working closely with Oleg Deripaska for more than 20 years.

T-i: Your forecast: what time frame are we talking about? A year, two, three? Or is it five-year plans?

AY: Not five-year plans. I would say it could be a year, two or three, but it could be just a few months. At the same time, the presidential elections in March 2024 will be an important milestone. Because the elite understands that if Vladimir Vladimirovich goes to these elections and receives the 90% already promised to him, then it will be difficult to remove him. But if suddenly it is not Vladimir Vladimirovich, but someone else who goes to these elections, then options are possible.

Interviewed by Olga ORLOVA