Guriev, the head of Russia's New Economic School and a top liberal economist, dashed off to France last week after investigators stepped up their inquiries into his support for Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, who has been in jail since 2003 after he announced plans to challenge Putin politically. Guriev was considered a political insider in Russia, closely aligned with Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, Putin's one-time protégé who appears to have also fallen out of the Kremlin's favor.
In an op-ed article in the New York Times on Wednesday entitled "Why I Am Not Returning To Russia," Guriev explained that he "feared losing my freedom."
"I bought a one-way ticket from Russia and will not return to my country," he wrote.
Pavel Durov, the founder of Russia's dominant social network VKontakte, has also reportedly left the country because he fears authorities are targeting him. Earlier this year, police say Durov hit a policeman with a car and drove off and video eventually emerged as evidence. Durov insists he does not even own a car. His company had rebuffed efforts by authorities to access VKontakte's databases for fear they would target the opposition which used the site to plan the anti-Putin protests.
The fear appears to have trickled down. According to a new poll conducted by the independent Levada Center (which itself is under pressure from authorities), over a fifth of Russians want to leave the country. The poll found that 22 percent said they wanted to leave, up from 13 percent in 2009. The poll found that students, entrepreneurs, and particularly young males were most likely to express a desire to leave the country.
Meanwhile, it appears that Russia is not only in danger of a brain drain. The head of Russia's central bank said Wednesday that Russians continue to send their money out of the country at an alarming rate. In the first quarter of 2013, $25.8 billion was sent overseas. That capital flight continues a worrying trend. Last year, an estimated $49 billion left the country. In February, Sergei Ignatyev, the central bank chief, made waves when he said that a small, politically-connected group was responsible for sending about half of that money.