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Russian University Shows Veteran U.S. Professor The Door

  • Tony Wesolowsky

Kendrick White says he's "still trying to wrap my head around the absurdity of what's happening." (file photo)

Kendrick White says he's "still trying to wrap my head around the absurdity of what's happening." (file photo)

Officially, Nizhny Novgorod's Lobachevsky State University said Kendrick White was being let go as vice rector for innovation due to a "restructuring of the management system," according to a university statement issued on June 30.

But White's dismissal came days after he was highlighted in a weekly, pro-Kremlin TV news program discussing a proposal to create a "patriotic stop list" of Americans who harm Russian interests. State-controlled TV Rossiya's Vesti Nedeli (News Of The Week) program questioned why an American held such a post and claimed that portraits of American, and not Russian, scientists graced the university's walls.

Program host Dmitry Kiselyov, notorious for his anti-Western tirades, suggested White's work was "bringing us harm."

One day after the Vesti Nedeli program mentioned him by name, the 51-year-old White left Russia for the United States.

Relations between Washington and Moscow are at Cold War lows mainly over the Ukraine conflict.

When asked to explain White's dismissal, Lobachevsky State University rector Yevgeny Chuprunov was terse, telling the Kommersant newspaper on June 30 only, "Such are the times."

White, who joined the university faculty in 2013, has so far said little publicly about his abrupt exit from Russia.

In comments to BuzzFeed News on July 2, White said he was "still trying to wrap my head around the absurdity of what's happening."

White is vacationing in Miami and said he plans to return to Russia soon to learn more.

And White's dismissal appears to have sent a shiver down the collective spine of academia in Russia.

Several institutions employing foreign professors and lecturers refused not only to comment on the case to The Moscow Times on July 1, but requested they not be mentioned at all.

A week before the Vesti Nedeli report, President Vladimir Putin had complained that foreign educational foundations were sucking up bright young Russians "like a vacuum cleaner."

"These networks have just been skulking around the schools of the Russian Federation for many years under the guise of supporting talented young people," President Vladimir Putin said.

"These networks have just been skulking around the schools of the Russian Federation for many years under the guise of supporting talented young people," President Vladimir Putin said.

Putin signed a law on May 23 giving prosecutors the power to blacklist foreign and international organizations that "pose a threat to Russia's security" and shut them down.

The legislation has much more bite than a 2012 law requiring nongovernmental organizations receiving foreign funding and deemed to be engaged in hazily defined "political activities" to register as "foreign agents," essentially tarring them as spies.

The blacklist mentioned by Vesti Nedeli is expected to announce its first 20 targets possibly as soon as next week.

And it could contain foreign educational foundations, including the EURECA program jointly founded by White's longtime employer and the University of Maryland in the United States to foster scholarly exchanges.

"These networks have just been skulking around the schools of the Russian Federation for many years under the guise of supporting talented young people," Putin told his presidential science and education council in June in comments quoted by RIA Novosti. "Actually, they just suck them up like a vacuum cleaner, get them hooked on grants, and take them away."

And it appears White may have been in the Kremlin's crosshairs.

The Vesti Nedeli program linked White to Scott Blacklin, who, the TV report said, had visited Lobachevsky State University several times recently to hold seminars with students there about studying in the United States.

Blacklin, a former president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia, was expelled from Russia in June for an alleged visa violation and was banned from returning for five years.

He was accused of organizing seminars while in the country on a tourist visa.

Blacklin was held in the immigration detention center in Nizhny Novgorod before being expelled from the country.

Other U.S. academics have been forced to leave Russia for alleged visa violations since relations between Washington and Moscow soured over Russian actions in Ukraine in early 2014.

At least four Westerners were fined, deported, or threatened with such penalties while conducting academic research in Russia in the 12 months that followed Russia's forcible annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Nizhny Novgorod alone has witnessed at least three deportation cases involving five Westerners in the last half year, according to RFE/RL's Russian Service.

The city and region of Nizhny Novgorod became a crucible of sorts for Russian and U.S. business cooperation in the 1990s, especially when the region was governed by Boris Nemtsov, a future deputy prime minister who ran afoul of Putin and was assassinated in Moscow in late February.

The U.S.-Russia Foundation -- a U.S. government-funded endowment -- helped develop start-up technology companies in the province.

When he arrived in Nizhny Novgorod in 1992, White played an integral part in fostering closer business ties between Russia and the United States.

Under U.S. President Barack Obama's attempted "reset" with Russia during his first term, White was involved in several projects to help develop Russia's business sector with the help of partnerships with Western companies.

All that is long in the past.

And the atmosphere around White's dismissal serves as a reminder of how far apart Washington and Moscow now find themselves.

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