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Economist Critical Of Kremlin Says He Was Ousted From Influential Journal

Russian economist Sergei Aleksashenko
Russian economist Sergei Aleksashenko

WASHINGTON – A leading Russian economist says he was forced out of his job as editor of an influential newsletter published by a top Moscow university due to his criticism of the Kremlin's economic stewardship.

Sergei Aleksashenko, a former deputy finance minister under President Boris Yeltsin, told RFE/RL that officials at a research center with Moscow's Higher School of Economics (HSE) informed him that senior government officials were displeased with his role as editor of "Commentary on Government and Business," and that state funding for the newsletter could dry up if he did not quit.

"The situation was relatively banal: either Aleksashenko leaves the job, so that he can't be seen or heard, or you won't have any money to operate," he said in a telephone interview.

He said he decided to step down so as not to risk that the newsletter would be shut down. "I can't put people at risk like that," Aleksashenko said.

Bearing the decidedly loaded Russian acronym "KGB," the biweekly newsletter is read by many decision makers in Russia and is considered among the most influential of such publications in the country.

A former deputy governor of Russia's central bank, Aleksashenko is one of the most high-profile economists in the country. He has also been a consistent critic of the Kremlin's economic policies in a variety of media outlets, including in blog posts for the independent-minded Ekho Moskvy radio station, where he has been a frequent on-air guest.

Officials at HSE's Center of Development, the research institute that publishes the newsletter, could not be reached immediately for comment about Aleksashenko's exit, which was first reported on October 7 by the Russian business news agency RBK.

RBK based its report on a letter written by Aleksashenko, who currently resides in Washington. The letter said he was forced out because "someone doesn't like what I write, what I do [and] where I live."

Aleksashenko moved to Washington last year for a visiting professorship at Georgetown University but continued to edit the newsletter.

"We almost never published any articles under my byline," he told RFE/RL. "For that reason I was told that there were not any issues with the content of what was written, but rather with the fact that my last name is on the front page."

Aleksashenko served as HSE's director of macroeconomic research from 2009 until his resignation in early September. He said politics did not play a role in his decision to step down from that post, but rather the difficulties presented by working remotely.

He plans to stay in Washington for the near future.

Economic Turbulence

Aleksashenko's departure from the newsletter comes amid bad news for business in Russia, which has been slapped with several rounds of economic sanctions from the United States and the European Union over its role in the Ukraine crisis.

Bloomberg reported on October 7 that the Russian government has spent as much as $1.75 billion over the past two trading days to prop up the ruble, the largest central bank intervention since Russia's invasion of Crimea in March.

Plummeting oil prices also threaten to leave Russia with a budget deficit of 1.2 percent next year, according to Sberbank CIB, Bloomberg reported.

Aleksashenko said there is "no reason to believe" the economic situation in Russia will improve.

"As things are now, authorities -- the president, the government -- haven't done anything that could change the economy's trajectory for the better," he told RFE/RL. "There could be a worsening, but it won't be a crash like in 2008, when everything just collapsed by 10 percent. That won't happen. It will happen incrementally."

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    Carl Schreck

    Carl Schreck is an award-winning investigative journalist who serves as RFE/RL's enterprise editor. He has covered Russia and the former Soviet Union for more than 20 years, including a decade in Moscow. He has led investigations into corruption, cronyism, and disinformation campaigns in Russia and Central Asia, as well as on poisoning attacks against Kremlin opponents and assassinations of Iranian exiles in the West. Schreck joined RFE/RL in 2014.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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