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Kremlin Critic To Be EBRD's Chief Economist

Sergei Guriyev (file photo)

A respected Russian academic who fled into self-imposed exile two years ago amid fears of criminal prosecution will be the new chief economist for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

The London-based bank announced on November 3 that Sergei Guriyev will join the organization next year after fulfilling his teaching commitments in Paris.

Guriyev, 44, confirmed the appointment to RFE/RL, saying he is "honored," but declined to comment further.

Guriyev previously served as an adviser to current Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and, until 2013, as rector of the New Economic School, a privately funded graduate university in Moscow.

That spring, Guriyev abruptly announced that he had resigned from the school and would not be returning to Russia from Paris, where he had been teaching.

In later public statements, Guriyev said he was under investigation as part of the criminal case against Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the one-time oil baron who was convicted in 2005 for tax fraud and other charges widely seen as politically motivated.

Khodorkovsky's oil company, Yukos, was later dismantled and all but absorbed by state-run oil giant Rosneft.

Guriyev also stepped down in 2013 as a board member of state-owned Sberbank, Russia's largest lender.

Guriyev downplayed his reasons for refusing to return to Russia, saying in an opinion piece published in June 2013 that he did not want to be seen as a symbol, but also suggesting that Russian society under President Vladimir Putin was suffering from a "disease."

"I have never been a politician, and I am not a political refugee. I left Russia for personal reasons: I personally prefer to stay free," he wrote.

Since that time, Guriyev has largely stayed out of politics, at least publicly. In May, however, he co-authored another opinion piece describing the tools of a new generation of dictators, in which he included Putin and others.

"The 'soft' dictators concentrate power, stifling opposition and eliminating checks and balances, while using hardly any violence," he wrote in The New York Times.

With 64 member nations -- including the United States, Russia, Britain, Germany and others -- the bank was founded in 1991 to promote the transition of post-communist countries to market economies.

Last year, it stopped investing in new projects in Russia because of European Union sanctions imposed on Moscow in response to the Ukraine conflict.