- - Sunday, July 12, 2015

MOSCOW — As the Kremlin fights what officials in Moscow have called an “information war” with the West, Russian state-run media are more powerful than ever.

Exactly how powerful is something that U.S. citizen Kendrick White discovered this week when he was dismissed from his position as deputy head of a prestigious Russian university following an on-air attack by the country’s top TV presenter.

Nizhny Novgorod State University’s decision to employ Mr. White, a longtime resident of Russia who had been in the post since 2013, was criticized during a June 28 news show on the state-run Rossiya 1 channel.

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“How did White, a U.S. citizen and a businessman from Washington, come to hold this position?” TV presenter Dmitry Kiselev said during a discussion of a proposal to create a blacklist of Americans whose work “harms” Russia.

Mr. White also was criticized during the broadcast for reportedly replacing portraits of Russian scientists hanging on the university’s walls with those of Americans.

“American democracy is merely an attempt to get everyone to obey them,” Mr. Kiselyov told viewers of his prime-time news program.

Under Russian law, highly qualified foreign citizens are entitled to hold positions at state companies and institutions.

But attacks on the United States and American citizens have become commonplace in Russian state media since a popular revolt in neighboring Ukraine toppled the country’s pro-Moscow president in Feb. 2014. The Kremlin says the United States financed and orchestrated the revolution as part of a plot to weaken Russia.

The head of Russia’s Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, said last week that Washington “would like it if Russia did not exist as a state at all.”

Within 48 hours of the Rossiya 1 program being aired, the university in Nizhny Novgorod, some 260 miles from Moscow, declared on its website that Mr. White was to be relieved of his duties as vice-rector for innovation.

“Such are the times,” the university’s rector, Yevgeny Chuprunov, told the Kommersant business newspaper. He declined to comment further.

The university later said in a statement that it would discuss “further cooperation” with Mr. White, although it did not give details.

White is an American, and Russia is on the receiving end of an attack from the U.S. government,” Russia’s respected Vedomosti newspaper cited a source in the Nizhny Novgorod city administration as saying. “In difficult times, we need to concentrate on our own scientists.”

Mr. White is currently on vacation in the United States and has not commented on the situation.

However, his Facebook page quickly filled with comments from Russians, the overwhelming majority of them supportive.

Mr. White, I’m very ashamed for my country, for my city, and for this university,” wrote Irina Slavina, a Nizhny Novgorod local.

“This man with an American passport tried to develop science and business in our country, and people with Russian passports kicked him out,” wrote Alexander Bazanov, a former student at the university.

Sergei Guriev, a noted Russian economist who fled Russia in 2013 after expressing support for opposition figures, fears Mr. White’s dismissal could be the start of a campaign to purge Russia of U.S. specialists.

“This is a very unfortunate development,” Mr. Guriev told The Washington Times in emailed comments from Paris. “Mr. White has been one of the most devoted and optimistic private investors and advisers to young Russian innovators.”

“This sends a very clear signal to all Russian universities and research institutes — do not cooperate with Americans. Which is, of course, counterproductive — without access to American expertise, technology and markets — Russian innovators cannot be successful,” he wrote. “This is yet another signal that the Russian government — if judged by deeds rather than words — is against innovation, growth and development.”

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