A decade ago I had the biggest standoff I’ve ever had with my wife. She demanded we leave Russia.
I spent most of my teen years away from Russia but Moscow was my home. I was studying abroad — first in the US, then England — but would be back In Moscow for every school break.
I missed Moscow during my boarding school years and missed it even more when I was at university because my girlfriend (Natasha — now my wife of over twenty years, the hero of this story!) was in Moscow.
As was getting ready for my first job, in the early 2000s, my feelings for Russia were as close it gets to “patriotic”. The country had seen nothing but the turbulence in its first post-Soviet decade, and it was not clear that my fancy Western education would be a good fit but I wanted to be back. Russia was young, I was young; I wanted to be part of Russia’s future. I wanted to contribute to it.
Eventually, I got what I wanted and even more. I worked for Morgan Stanley in London and they offered me to move to Moscow. It worked out great. In mid-2000 Russia was one of the fastest growing economies in the world and every Western business wanted a part of it. I got the best of both worlds — working and living in my home city that I loved and working for one of the most renowned Western banks. In the later part of 2000s I worked for the business that my dad co-founded — in meat production and retail. That entrepreneurial chapter of my career turned out unsuccessful, but that’s a separate story.
I loved the country but never supported Putin’s regime. In fact, in one of my Harvard Business School admissions essays in 2005 I talked about my doubts about the dark trends I was observing. But I stayed attached to the country. It was my calling to be with Russia, in Russia, I felt. And no matter how you looked at it, Russia was truly a country of opportunity, by the virtue of its economy being young. There were so many things to pursue in the corporate world or in entrepreneurship.
I loved Moscow specifically. I had seen the city transform dramatically since the 1990s. I didn’t like its newly acquired glitz and how its business and political elites displayed their power and arrogance on every step but it was my home — a great megacity that never sleeps. My most important childhood memories, my mellow coming-of-age memories are all about Moscow, even though I spent many years studying abroad. In Moscow I met the love of my life. I enjoyed the spirit of Moscow in…