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Cut-And-Paste Job: 'My Father Wrote Putin's Dissertation'

Olga Litvinenko says she spent the summer of 1997 helping her father write a candidate's dissertation for a political up-and-comer, Vladimir Putin.

Olga Litvinenko spent the summer of 1997 as a teenager at her father's dacha outside St. Petersburg. But it wasn't your usual summer of mushroom hunting and firing up the samovar.

She says she spent the summer helping her father, Vladimir Litvinenko, the newly installed rector of the National Mineral Resources University, write a candidate's dissertation for a political up-and-comer, Vladimir Putin.

"All of it was written by my father alone," Olga Litvinenko tells RFE/RL. "It went like this: He went through various books; some particular paragraph made an impression so he put that page on the copying machine; then he cut out the bit that he liked and glued it onto a separate sheet of paper; he added his commentaries and then moved on to some other paragraph."

"I saw all of this," she adds. "It happened right before my eyes."

Accusations that there was something fishy about Putin's dissertation are not new. A 2006 investigation by the Brookings Institution found strong evidence that most of the dissertation had been plagiarized from just two sources. The report alleged that "Putin never actually attended the institute...and the topic of the dissertation he submitted and defended was one in which he had no previous background."

On March 6, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov deflected requests for comment on Olga Litvinenko's claims. "There is nothing to comment on here," he said. "It isn't so."

In response, Litvinenko told RFE/RL: "Peskov wasn't there and I was.... Let Putin himself say that he wrote the dissertation and that it was not plagiarized."

Rector Vladimir Litvinenko (right) and President Vladimir Putin (center) attend a demonstration at the National Mineral Resources University in St. Petersburg in January 2015.
Rector Vladimir Litvinenko (right) and President Vladimir Putin (center) attend a demonstration at the National Mineral Resources University in St. Petersburg in January 2015.

Despite her background, Olga Litvinenko has been a harsh critic of Putin and of her father for several years. She lives in Poland and has charged that her father is keeping her 8-year-old daughter, Ester-Maria Litvinenko, unlawfully. For his part, Vladimir Litvinenko has filed a police report that Olga was kidnapped.

In January, a St. Petersburg court annulled Olga's passport, a move she says her father arranged to prevent her from returning to Russia. On January 24 she addressed Lithuania's parliament about the so-called Magnitsky List of targeted sanctions against alleged human rights abusers in Russia; and on March 7, she was set to give a similar speech to lawmakers in Estonia.

'Criminal' Degrees

Vladimir Litvinenko, who has been dubbed "the richest rector in Russia," became rector of the National Mineral Resources University (also called the St. Petersburg Mining University) in 1994. He owns nearly 15 percent of the PhosAgro phosphate-mining company, which was once partly owned by dispossessed former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and is worth at least $850 million.

"My father met Putin in 1991 though Gennady Belik, who was the head of the association of foreign-intelligence veterans," Olga Litvinenko says. "Belik was illegally exporting rare-earth metals to the West and my father was drawn into this business as a minerals expert. In 1994, Putin and Belik made him rector."

In 1994, Putin was first deputy chairman of the government of St. Petersburg, under Mayor Anatoly Sobchak.

"After he became rector, he used his official position and organized an illegal business preparing dissertations," Olga Litvinenko says of her father. "There was a great demand at the time -- everyone wanted a candidate's or doctoral degree. They produced dissertations for highly placed people on the basis of plagiarism."

Putin insider and CEO of state-owned Rosneft Igor Sechin got his degree from the National Mining University in 1998. Former Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov, a longtime Putin associate who is now chairman of Gazprom's board, got his degree from the university in 2000.

Olga Litvinenko says an entire "criminal group" was formed that included professors, lecturers, and scientists tasked with producing the dissertations and pushing them through the defense process.

"Everything was included -- the predefense, the defense -- and then my father arranged things through the Higher Attestation Commission to make sure that there could be no future questions for the degree recipients," she says.

Litvinenko adds that dissertations for a candidate's degree -- which is roughly equivalent to a U.S. doctorate -- cost the equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars. A doctoral dissertation, which in Russia is a more advanced academic degree without an equivalence in the United States, could go for two or three times that, "depending on how rich the businessman was."

The money, she says, came in cash. "I worked as the rector's assistant," Olga Litvinenko says. "I saw everything."

'Putin's Man'

"He wrote Putin's dissertation personally," she says of her father. "In 1997, they brought a copying machine to our dacha and my father took a vacation. Putin never came to the dacha. He never consulted with my father about his dissertation.... Everything was written exclusively by my father."

At the time, Putin had already moved to Moscow and was working as deputy presidential chief of staff.

"Maybe my father wrote it for him for free," Litvinenko says when asked if she knew how much Putin might have paid. "For one thing, he was [Putin's] man at the rector's post. They did business together and not just once. So I don't think you can talk about a particular payment. It is possible that it was a favor from my father for the help in getting the rector's post."

In addition to his academic work and business interests, Vladimir Litvinenko was the St. Petersburg head of Putin's presidential campaign in 2000, 2004, and 2012. This year, he is one of four local co-chairmen.

In a 2006 interview with the magazine Vlast, the elder Litvinenko insisted Putin wrote his own dissertation.

"I monitored this work myself," he said. "As a nonacademic, Vladimir Putin's first draft provoked some comment and was rejected. We recommended that he work on it more. After a few months, he brought a completely reworked version that took into account the comments and he was allowed to defend it. So I have no doubts that he worked independently."

Written by Robert Coalson on the basis of reporting by RFE/RL's Russian Service correspondent Dmitry Volchek