The rector who did everything right Russian Presidential Academy head Vladimir Mau was one of the minds behind Putin’s economic agenda. Now he’s facing criminal charges
On June 30, Russia's Interior Ministry reported that state investigators had arrested Vladimir Mau, the rector of RANEPA (the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration). Mau was named a suspect in an ongoing felony case against former Deputy Education Minister Marina Rakova and Moscow School for the Social and Economic Sciences Rector Sergey Zuev, and is being charged with large-scale embezzlement. Meduza takes a look at the case and its implications.
State investigators conducted a search of RANEPA Rector Vladimir Mau’s home on June 28, two days before the public learned about it. After the search, Mau was arrested and taken in for questioning, sources from the school told the BBC Russian Service.
That same day, RANEPA acting director Tatyana Udalova sent a message to all of her colleagues asking them not to answer any calls from unknown numbers or speak to reporters. Journalists, she said, could reach out “with a request for comment or an interview request regarding RANEPA’s leadership,” but all requests should be immediately reported to her (Meduza has obtained a copy of the message).
According to a source who spoke to the BBC, the academy’s faculty wasn’t officially told about Mau’s home being searched until later, but rumors began spreading the day it happened.
On the morning of June 30 (after Mau had been arrested), a report on the RANEPA website that said the rector had taken part in an award ceremony for winners of a competition called “I am a professional” along with First Deputy Chief of Staff Sergey Kiriyenko. The ceremony took place on June 28 — the day when, according to the BBC Russian Service, Mau’s home was searched.
On the day of the court session to determine Mau’s pre-trial restrictions, Mau was reelected to Gazprom’s Board of Directors at the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting.
On June 30, before the arrest was officially reported, neither Mau’s assistant nor the school’s vice rectors would answer Meduza’s calls. A representative from RANEPA’s press service answered Meduza’s call, but said they didn’t “hear the questions,” then hung up and didn’t pick up again. At the time of publication, Meduza had not received a response to its official request for comment from the press service.
Mau’s arrest wasn't confirmed by the Russian Interior Ministry until June 30. Investigators requested that Mau be put on house arrest until August 7, and the court complied. According to official reports, Mau stands accused of “misappropriating RANEPA funds.” The charges carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
On June 30, the news outlet Agenstvo reported that Mau’s interrogation had lasted from June 28 to June 30. At the hearing to determine pre-trial restrictions, his lawyer said that the search of his home had not yielded any “negative results,” and after a face-to-face meeting with one of the witnesses (who was not named), Mau was released. Later, he was brought in for another meeting, this one with former Deputy Education Minister Marina Rakova. On June 30, Mau “appeared at the investigative unit by phone, in violation of the notification procedure [which requires appearing in person for questioning],” his lawyer said in court.
At the court session, Mau and his lawyer learned that the testimony against him had been given by Marina Rakova and her assistant, Yevgeny Zak, the former deputy director of the Education Ministry’s Foundation for New Forms of Education Development.
The new case
A month and a half before Mau’s arrest, on May 20, 2022, investigators opened a new fraud case in connection to a 2021 case of misappropriating funds from the Russian Education Ministry. The suspects of the original case are Marina Rakova and Shaninka (Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences) Rector Sergey Zuyev. The new case, according to investigators, concerns an “Education Ministry employee’s fictitious employment at RANEPA’s Federal Education Development Institute.”
Soon after, in late May, Interior Ministry investigators searched the homes of the former and current RANEPA employees, RIA Novosti and TASS reported. “All of them are connected somehow or other to RANEPA. In particular, investigators searched the home of Maxim Dulinova, the head of RANEPA’s Federal Education Development Institute,” a source told TASS.
RANEPA’s management is also “discussing” the possible arrest of three vice rectors close to Mau, according to BBC Russian’s sources. On June 30, Agenstvo reported that the vice rectors’ homes were being searched, and according to RBK, investigators have been searching RANEPA itself.
After Mau’s arrest was reported, RANEPA’s press service told the BBC Russian Service that the school was providing "support and assistance" to investigators.
Part of the system
In the 1980s, Mau worked in the USSR Science Academy’s Economics Institute and at Moscow State University. In the 1990s, he became an advisor to then-Russian Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, known for leading Russia through its “shock therapy” economic reforms.
Mau became the head of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy in 2002, and after it merged with the Russian Presidential Academy of Public Administration in 2010, Mau headed the new institution: RANEPA.
In 2011, at the instruction of the Russian government, Mau, along with Higher School of Economics Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov, oversaw the development of “Strategy 2020,” a plan for Russia’s socio-economic development over the following decade. Roughly one thousand experts from various fields took part in the project.
In 2015, Yaroslav Kuzminov — then the acting Rector of the Higher School of Economics — described his joint work with Mau in an interview with Meduza:
Putin instructed RANEPA head Vladimir Mau and I to form the group of experts that prepared his 2020 program, and the President’s laws were largely based on the elements of that 2020 program that he agreed with. He didn’t agree with everything we suggested — for example, we proposed more extensive pension reforms. But he agreed with the core, with the economic program, so we consider the program Putin used to win the election ours.
Even in recent years, Mau never openly opposed the Russian authorities; if anything, he helped them. When a Moscow prosecutor’s office demanded RANEPA provide information about students who attended protest rallies in 2020, Mau put together a team and had them compile a list.
After Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Mau signed a letter written by the Russian Union of Rectors that expressed support for the “special military operation” and called for people to “unite around the president.” Leaders from over 260 universities signed the statement.
In a Facebook post made after Mau’s arrest became public, Economist Konstantin Sonin referred to the rector as “a leading economic history specialist, an important publicist, and an advisor to Yegor Gaidar at one of the most difficult moments in Russian history.”
Outside of RANEPA, though, Mau “has long since stopped trying to fit into the system,” said economist Dmitry Nekrasov. “He was the last high-status person in the government's and the president’s economic councils,” Nekrasov told Meduza. “He was able to write memos — and he enlisted me to help. Writing memos to the government like that has long been pointless, but he tried to maneuver to maintain economics and the humanities in that environment.”
Nekrasov believes the government simply couldn’t leave someone “from the liberal bloc” in charge of an institution that trains future civil servants. “How can someone like Mau be in charge of reproducing the elite in the country ‘captured by the KGB?’”
Repression against RANEPA was just a matter of time, according to sociologist Victor Vakhshtain, who worked at the school for 10 years. “When the most independent people ended up either getting tortured [in remand prisons], like what happened to Zuyev, or unemployed, retired, honorably discharged, like happened at the Higher School of Economics, it became obvious that they’d get to Mau eventually,” Vakhshtain told Meduza.
The authorities’ crackdown on the relatively autonomous pro-Western parts of Russia’s education sector began before the war, Vakhshtain said. But the last rector of the Higher School of Economics, Mau was reluctant to give up his positions:
He refused to give up the academy to people affiliated with the other political camp. And even when there were attempts to take it — and there were many — he managed to fight them off thanks to his political weight. He didn’t fire politically objectionable professors at the same rate they’ve been fired [at other institutions throughout the country] for the last few years. None of the school’s international projects were shut down until quite recently, and neither were there any maniacal performances of patriotic feeling at the academy until recently. And that’s largely thanks to Mau.
According to Ekaterina Shulman, it’s not surprising that being a part of the political establishment didn’t save Mau from persecution. “He wasn’t a dissident, and in a position like that, he couldn’t be. [...] He wasn’t just a part of the system, he was one of the architects of its economic ideology. But that in and of itself isn’t enough to protect a person from this kind of development. We’ve seen how the system consumes its own people.”
In Shulman’s view, the charges against Mau are not a way to change RANEPA’s leadership, but rather a lingering consequence of the fraud case at Shaninka. “It looks like the case involves truly large sums of money. And they [the officials with the power to make decisions regarding such cases] aren’t paying much attention at all to what kind of impression the charges will create.”
Viktor Vakhshtain disagrees. Right now, the authorities’ task is to “conduct large-scale repressions and purges at RANEPA,” he said. “The only question is who the next victim will be.”
Abridged translation by Sam Breazeale