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Researchers peg Putin as a plagiarist over thesis
Question of the Day
Vladimir Putin — KGB spy, politician, Russian Federation president, 2006 host of the Group of Eight international summit — can add a new line to his resume: plagiarist.
Large chunks of Mr. Putin’s mid-1990s economics dissertation on planning in the natural resources sector were lifted straight out of a management text published by two University of Pittsburgh academics nearly 20 years earlier, Washington researchers insisted yesterday.
Six diagrams and tables from the 218-page dissertation mimic in form and content similar charts in the Russian translation of the Americans’ work as well, according to Brookings Institution senior fellow Clifford G. Gaddy.
“It all boils down to plagiarism,” he said. “Whether you’re talking about a college-level term paper, not to mention a formal dissertation, there’s no question in my mind that this would be plagiarism.”
The dissertation, which Putin scholars have tried in vain for years to examine, is one of a number of mysteries surrounding the enigmatic Russian leader’s academic career.
The official Kremlin biography asserts Mr. Putin obtained a “Ph.D. in economics” in 1997 from the St. Petersburg Mining Institute, but his thesis was for a “candidate of sciences” degree that is considered at least an academic class below a formal doctoral degree.
In a semiautobiographical series of interviews published just after he was named president of Russia in 2000, Mr. Putin does not even mention the thesis, referring only to preliminary work he did on another dissertation on international law at the then-Leningrad State University in 1990 while still formally an employee of the KGB.
It is not even clear when Mr. Putin wrote the thesis, formally titled “The Strategic Planning of Regional Resources Under the Formation of Market Relations,” although it is known he returned from Moscow to St. Petersburg in 1997 to defend his work.
What is clear, according to Mr. Gaddy and fellow Brookings researcher Igor Danchenko, is that large sections of the dissertation’s central argument were taken almost word-for-word from the 1978 management text “Strategic Planning and Policy,” by University of Pittsburgh professors William R. King and David I. Cleland.
Mr. Gaddy said that in the 20 pages that open the dissertation’s key second section, 16 pages are taken either verbatim or with minute alterations from the American work. The book had been translated into Russian by a KGB-related institute in the early 1990s.
The thesis writer does cite the King-Cleland work as one of his 47 sources, but gives no indication that paragraphs and pages are being taken unchanged from the earlier work.
“Somebody was cutting corners,” said Mr. Gaddy, “whether it was Mr. Putin or whoever cut-and-pasted the work for him.”
Western researchers have reported continual frustration since Mr. Putin took power in obtaining a copy of the dissertation. Mr. Danchenko said the Brookings researchers learned that a Moscow technical library had a text of the work in its electronic files.
A friend signed up as a subscriber to the library and was able to obtain a copy, he said.
Although it may fall short of Western scholarly conventions, Mr. Putin’s effort should be seen in a Russian, post-Soviet context, some scholars said.
E. Wayne Merry, senior associate at the American Foreign Policy Council, said dubious academic credential building was common in Eastern Europe and especially the old East Germany, where Mr. Putin served as a KGB agent in the dying years of the Soviet Union.
“It was really quite common for an up-and-coming apparatchik to get a ghostwritten work done to obtain a degree,” he said. “It’s probably an open question whether Putin even read his dissertation until shortly before he had to defend it.”
Mr. Merry noted that, at the time of the dissertation, Mr. Putin was a provincial politician in St. Petersburg, more concerned with impressing visiting German investors than with how a questionable economics degree would look when he was president of one of the world’s great powers.
But Mr. Gaddy said Mr. Putin’s effort was worth studying even if its key ideas were either thin or borrowed.
He noted that the thesis topic — on how a state can best manage its natural resources — is a central preoccupation for Mr. Putin as head of one of the world’s energy superpowers.
And Vladimir Litvinenko, the rector at the St. Petersburg mining institute that awarded Mr. Putin his degree, has remained close to his former student and is an emerging power in his own right.
Mr. Litvienko is a key adviser to the president on energy policy and had been mentioned as a possible future head of the Russian energy giant Gazprom.
By Andrew P. Napolitano
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