Ukrainian B-School Prof: ‘The World Should Make Sure That Russia Fails’

Cambridge Judge finance professor Andrei Kirilenko: “The facts of this war are simple — it’s about values: freedom versus captivity, democracy versus authoritarianism, truth versus propaganda”

Andrei Kirilenko’s mother has survived Nazi occupation, Stalin’s famine, harsh Soviet rule, and much more in her 85 years on Earth. Now she is one of more than 430,000 residents of Mariupol in southeastern Ukraine who are under siege in the Russian attack on her country that began February 24.

Kirilenko, a finance professor at Cambridge University Judge Business School, has spoken periodically with his mother in recent days as war crept closer and finally broke out Thursday. She tells him she can hear loud shelling from her home — harkening to memories of the many perils she has faced in an eventful and difficult life.

“It’s all the same to her — taking away her freedom,” he says. “The facts of this war are simple — it’s about values: freedom versus captivity, democracy versus authoritarianism, truth versus propaganda. The Russians are not there to get another piece of land on which they could build another gas pipeline. They are there to impose their values. And the world should make sure that they fail.”


Kirilenko, who was born in Miriupol on the northern coast of the Sea of Azov a little over 100 miles from the Russian border, works at the intersection of finance, technology, and regulation. His focus has been on fintech, digital technologies, and the design of automated financial markets and instruments. A former chief economist of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, he spent 12 years at the International Monetary Fund working on financial crises around the world.

He was the founding director of the Centre for Global Finance and Technology at Imperial College Business School; before that he was professor of the practice of finance at MIT Sloan School of Management and co-director of the MIT Center for Finance and Policy.

He says Europe and the world must reckon with the reality that the template for collective security in Europe “is no more.”

“I mean, there is war going on in Europe right now,” Kirilenko tells Poets&Quants by phone from Cambridge. “My understanding from monitoring things on the ground, and having various people be very transparent from different echelons of government and military about what’s going on, is that it looks like Russia’s plan for now — and they may be changing it as they go along — is to take over or try to take over parts of critical infrastructure, hydroelectric power plants, nuclear power plants, rivers, bridges, with the idea that if they have control over those they’ll shut down power. They will basically create a siege-like environment and force a change of government. And that is unlikely to happen from what I can see, because the country is uniting around their politicians, around their elected representatives, around their president.

“Not everyone in the country is happy with the president, but the overwhelming feeling is, Now is not the time. Let’s push the aggressor back, then we will decide, Ukrainians will decide, what kind of president they want, what kind of parliament they want, what kind of supreme court they want. It may not be the best people, it may not be the brightest people, it may not be the people who even have the experience to do it — but it’ll be their choice. They want to have their choice.

“And that is what the fighting is about now, having the the choice to govern themselves without someone else telling them what to do.”


Roman Sheremata

Kirilenko is not alone among business school faculty in condemning the Russian invasion. Roman Sheremeta, an associate professor of economics at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, says “the West has learned nothing” since the Second World War ended nearly 80 years ago.

Sheremeta, who is also a research affiliate at the Economic Science Institute at Chapman University, was listed as a Top Economic Thinker of Ukrainian descent by Forbes in 2015, a top-rated young economist in the world according to the IDEAS ranking in 2018, and recognized as a Best 40 Under 40 Professor by Poets&Quants in 2019. He is one of the most-cited Ukrainian economists globally, having been published in more than 70 leading scholarly journals in economics, business, psychology, and political science.

In a social media post titled “Never Again Is Now,” Sheremeta writes:

“After the war in Ukraine in which the West has done nothing to help Ukraine defend against Nazi Russia, the phrase ‘Never Again’ will be a shameful reminder that even after atrocities of Hitler, West has learned nothing.

“Dear American and Europeans citizens: You forgot your history. Nazis are those who attack in the morning without announcing war, shell cities, kill innocent people, and create lists of people whom they will need to eliminate first once they take over. Right now, in this finest hour, Ukraine is defending West from Nazis, while West is silent.

“I call all people around the world, the countries of NATO – it is now or never. Please, help defend Ukraine from Nazi Russia while there still time. Otherwise, please stop using this phrase ‘Never Again,’ because clearly you did not learn the lesson.”


At Cambridge, Andrei Kirilenko says the Russian invasion of Ukraine has widely applicable lessons for the MBA classroom, particularly in his areas of specialty: fintech and how digital technologies are changing finance.

“I worked a lot on financial crises around the world,” he says. “And so my narrative currently is that there’s a fintech revolution that came out of the global financial crisis — blockchain and crypto, mobile banking, various elements of artificial intelligence, cloud computing. All this originated in 2007, 2008, 2009. These technologies, to me, are about freedom, are about individuals being able to conduct their own financial matters without intermediaries. You can go and create your assets, or you can conduct your own banking directly.

“Given that choice, there are fundamental principles behind it, so I see this conflict really finding its way into the classroom, perhaps in a couple of ways. One is something probably related to energy and ESG, because one of the things that powers the Russian regime is hydrocarbons. I think the broader transition to be environmentally and socially responsible certainly includes not working with regimes that could go and direct their military and other processes to go and kill other people.

“So if you are making business decisions on whether or not to engage with certain sorts of regimes that are, again, civilizationally suspect, what’s the point if you are ultimately compromising other social structures around the world? Why are you doing this, and what kind of a business is this? What’s this based on? What are the models behind it? So that’s perhaps one aspect in which we can sort of look at it sort of from the business school angle.”


Kirilenko has spoken with his 85-year-old mother in Mariupol regularly since the Russian invasion began. “She is old, you know. She’s an old lady, she’s been through a lot,” he says. “And she hasn’t had an easy life, and her family hasn’t had an easy life. But you know, she’s calm now — things are happening, as opposed to anticipation.”

He says sanctions by the U.S., European Union, UK, and others will work in time, if history is any guide.

“The last time sanctions were put on Russia was because of the invasion in Afghanistan,” Kirilenko says. “The Soviet Union, they invaded in ’79, and in ’89 the Soviet Union collapsed. So it may take 10 years. It may be sooner. But it will happen. Unfortunately, lots and lots of people in Russia are going to suffer, to the point where they will find that they do not find those governing them legitimate. And those people who are governing them are getting old. Similar to the story of the Soviet Union: When they invaded Afghanistan, they were sort of old men, and 10 years later they were kind of like dying every other month, the leadership of the Communist Party. Similar thing could happen in Russia — the West imposes the strictest possible sanctions, and then it will take a decade until they really start dying out, and take their outdated ideas away with them.

“What I think is really needed much more now is, really to the extent possible, supplying Ukrainians with weapons. I think that every day that Ukrainians are fighting the Russian aggression is a day that Russia gets closer to its own freedom. Because people will see that it is possible.

“It’s not about the piece of land. It’s not about buildings. It’s not about another pipeline. It’s not about a port, or even a natural resource. It’s not about that. It’s about values — and freedom. Unfortunately, freedom has to be earned. Unfortunately.”


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