Moscow on the Hudson

Ian Bremmer dines with heads of state, has cocktails with foreign ministers, and breakfasts with CEOs of billion-dollar corporations. Walk through the Silicon Alley penthouse offices of Eurasia Group, the political-and-economic-consulting firm he founded two years ago, when he was 28, and you might think you were in the Zelig cutting room. Everywhere are snapshots of Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze, Russian rainmaker Boris Berezovsky, diamond merchant Maurice Tempelsman, former Russian prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, rising politician Boris Nemtsov, and, always beside them, Bremmer, nearly invisible in checked jacket, hedgehog haircut, cartoony glasses, and penny loafers. To Vladimir Putin’s Cabinet, Bremmer is the molodoi amerikanets – the young American – but Bremmer soft-pedals his connections: “In terms of guys I would shoot pool with, I love Boris Nemtsov and former prime minister Sergei Kiriyenko. It’s hard to be friends with someone like Chernomyrdin.” It’s not surprising that Bremmer knows who they are, but why on earth do they know who he is?

Bremmer’s career makes Mozart look like an underachiever. At 15, he went to college; at 16, he traversed the Soviet Union; at 20, he edited his first book on Soviet nationalities; at 22, he won a MacArthur fellowship; at 23, he published a second book; at 25, he became a Hoover national fellow; and then, at 26, Ian Bremmer got bored. Prematurely emeritus, he was languishing at Stanford, his only distraction a bowling team called the Bowlsheviks, so he secured a berth at Columbia’s Harriman Institute and decamped for New York.

He became a fellow of the EastWest Institute and the World Policy Institute, hobnobbed at the United Nations and the Council on Foreign Relations, and met businessmen who were interested in the region: Tempelsman, Martin Pompadur of News Corp. Europe, James Hatt of Metromedia, and Scott Horton, partner at Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler. The fall of Communism in 1991 created a policy vacuum in Eurasia, but nobody in the West noticed until the Russian economy nosedived in 1998 and investments evaporated like vodka on a radiator.

Eurasia Group filled the void, and Tempelsman, Pompadur, Hatt, and Horton swiftly joined the board. “I’m not surprised at Ian’s success,” Horton says. “I think he is likely, eventually, to be in some important policy position with the government.” In a way, he already is. Last month, Eurasia Group flew twelve American CEOs and a slate of financiers and journalists to Moscow for the first Western business summit with the new Putin Cabinet. Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov and acting prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov were so relieved to have proof of renewed Western interest in Russian investment that they held press conferences on Russian television after the meetings. Maureen Miskovic, Lehman Brothers’ global risk manager, was stunned by the access Bremmer provided at the summit. “I’d hate to make predictions about how far Ian could go,” she says. “I think I could fall miserably short.”

In its first year, Eurasia pulled in $600,000; last year, the figure rose to $1.5 million, and this year’s projected revenues are $3 million to $5 million: dot-com earnings for a not-com business. Bremmer’s crew of under-30 polyglot polymaths routinely work sixteen-hour days. “We’re the barbarians at the gate!” he hoots. “All these stuffy guys in suits who are being groomed for diplomatic jobs – the Dubyas of this world – think they’re entitled. We are the complete opposite of them. We’re young. We’re hungry. We hustle our asses. It’s a start-up mentality.”

Last week, Bremmer flew back from a conference in Almaty just in time to host a dinner party at Union Pacific for Kyrgyz state secretary Naken Kasiev. Bremmer buzzed among his guests, talking shop in fluent Russian, the only crack in his composure the dry-cleaning tag stapled to the right cuff of his natty suit. “I will crash after this,” he whispered. And then he returned to Kasiev’s side – ready for his close-up.

Moscow on the Hudson