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Putin plagiarized His Thesis

The Washington Times reported in March, 2006 that Vladimir Putin — KGB spy, politician, Russian Federation president and Prime Minister–was also a plagiarist.

They said “this 2006 host of the Group of Eight international summit could add a new line to his resume: plagiarist.”

One must wonder what he thought when he saw published reports in the press of these American academics nailing him. They “literally caught him red handed (if they still use that term on Red Square). It must have blindsided him.” American academics don’t take lightly to the stealing of a U.S. economist’s ideas–especially by a Russian who has no current recollection of plagiarizing anything or anyone because he has no current conscience.

But was he so naive to think no one would ever notice? An international leader? Suddenly, there he was–speechless. He probably thought all international leaders have something in their pasts that they’re not proud of; and this–a tiny “convenient” peccadillo at best–what harm was it? Certainly among friends who brought it up point blank to his emotionless blond face the news must have made him flush or his cold blue eyes flicker nervously while his devious mind raced to find legitimacy to what he had or had not “written.” He needed a comeback, anything. . .

But the report was damning to his character. It said “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, according to Washington researchers.

Here he is, the master spy, former KGB head–actually still head of a KGB unit when he supposedly wrote the thesis–caught by what he might consider to be some weirdo scholars, pinheads (or you could say “egg heads”), the type that throughout his life he most likely disdained and may have even taken time to kill or beat up a few here and there in the Krasnorgorsk Train Station men’s room near the dumpster behind the elegant Bordino restaurant located in the stylish Aerostar Hotel or along some deadly, lonely road. Putin’s a little guy, but very tough and ruthless. Besides, he’s not really the academic type. He doesn’t enjoy writing, it’s too. . . well, too mental and mundane, not copyable enough.

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 the report said his thesis was for a “candidate of sciences” degree that is considered at least an academic class below a formal doctoral degree.

In a semi-autobiographical series of interviews published just after he was named president of Russia in 2000, Mr. Putin does not even mention the thesis, he “conveniently omits” it, 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. He didn’t dare bring it up, what if people drew attention to his “convenient” little lie? The timid might call it an inconsistency, but it’s still plagiary. What if people found out and it cost him his job?

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–with brass knuckles, I suspect.

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.

Some Putin apologists have tried to explain it away. Though it falls short of Western scholarly conventions, partisans say “Putin’s effort should be seen in a Russian, post-Soviet context.” Just what is that? I believe it would go easier on Putin if we took it in a Soviet context. We knew they lied and cheated at the KBG, we just didn’t think they needed to attach their name to the ideas and actual words in an American book. Pretty soon they’ll be stealing the Gettysburg Address and Jefferson’s final copy of the Declaration of Independence too.

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. So it was common? It sure makes it easier to get a doctorate. Just steal some lines, everything will be fine. If it’s okay to steal an American tank, warplane, or submarine design, I guess a few words can’t hurt.

It’s the primitive mentality and mores of the KGB and its leaders that really set us back in time a few thousand years. Now it becomes clear. This kind of mentality finds nothing wrong with attacking a small country, killing thousands, putting 200,000 out of their burning homes and driving them from South Ossetia and Abkhazia. And what’s a little genocide between “friends?”

Was it really quite common for an up-and-coming apparatchik to get a ghostwritten work done to obtain a degree?” People are doing it all the time in Russia. The “pinheads” even questioned “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. I should think so! Let’s map his psyche and how he comes to the conclusion that one and one is four? Maybe we can learn something from this acquisitive genius.

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. So! That’s where he arrived at his plan to take over the Georgian pipe line. To turn it on and shut it off whenever Europeans were acting badly, sort of like punishment.

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. Of course he is. Putin owes him plenty. Not only the degree, but some of the controversy that he failed to stifle with a stiff rejection of his thesis several years ago.

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. I can hear him now. “Yes, indeed, he would make a fine puppet over oil. Mr. Medvedev, see that he is given every consideration.”

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