The ongoing article, a sequel to an earlier write-uptitled “Silk Road to Monroe Doctrine”, published in the daily Nation on May 27, 2016, has largely been inspired by a summary reading in English translation by Thomas Fennell of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s PhD thesis (2008).
The focus is on highlighting the political, economic and strategic implications of raw minerals and rare metals buried in Eurasian soil in general or in mountains and sea beds in particular. The rough estimate of reserves of Russian extractible resources is around USD 28 trillion.
To understand the implication of President Putin’s thoughts, it is important to know the terminology and context. The epithet of “rare metals” is used in a specific sense. It denotes that all the ingredients are not metals due to which some scholars and traders prefer calling them “rare materials”. It also means that these elements are geologically scarce. Further probing shows that the word “rare” aims at suggesting lack of availability of their substitutes as in the case of electronic applications. On one side, these rare materials resist any attempt to define them clearly and on the other, high tech and defence industries depend upon them heavily. In short, their production is complex as they originated from areas on earth which can be counted on one’s fingertips. Nonetheless, Eurasia is one of the rare places where this precious wealth is in abundance.
In the present geopolitical context, the US influence has reduced considerably and instead tension, conflict and instability are the main obstacles towards progress and development in countries along the Silk Road from Kyrgyzstan of the “Tulip Revolution”, onwards to Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Syria, states closer to Caucasus such as Georgia and Chechnya, Ukraine to the Arab Spring states in the Muslim world.
And yet, Eurasia is experiencing an economic upsurge. Vladimir Putin is of the view that this rise up is due to a huge stock of raw minerals and rare materials which will remain the most important factor in giving a boost to the Eurasian economy in the coming years. At the same time, he knows that his country “is first in nickel and natural gas, second in oil after Saudi Arabia, third in coal after US and China, and third in gold after South Africa and the US.” The value of 28 trillion USD of explored reserves invites rational planning reflected by experience and sustainable development through extracting and processing on scientific basis and applying abilities and skills related to a centrally controlled economy. In this way, the Russian Federation will further prepare itself for competitiveness of the state’s defence complex necessary for strategic reserve potential.
Hilary Clinton’s observation of “division and conflict,” could have been meaningful about the political scenario in Eurasia in 2011, but now things have changed, which made President Putin devise a strategy to use rare materials as an instrument to maintain the balance of power, peace and progress.
At this moment, it is important to mention briefly and specifically a few ingredients in which the land of Eurasia is extremely rich. Beryllium that serves as conductor; dysprosium lacks substitute, is scarcer than samarium or cobalt but is required for making speakers and electric toothbrushes and hence its demand is high; and ‘rare earth’ with magnetic properties found in Kazakhstan, uranium and potash in Russian Federation, gold deposits in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, and all this wealth is in addition to oil and natural gas resources in Russia from the Arctic to the Caspian seabed; oil reserves of Taq Taq in an area where a mostly Kurdish population lives; Ukraine oil and gas in Donbas basin along with natural gas in Turkmenistan.
Over and above is the network of pipes through which oil and gas flows all over Eurasia and exported to Europe and China. The rail road systems such as trans-Siberian and Yuxinou International Railway covers thousands of miles while many routes connected with the Silk Road are, unlike olden times, well-developed. This transporting facility through air and overland and water is transforming the strategic and trade realities of the Silk Road.
The innovation of tapping and shielding opened up new industries and thus tablets, notebooks, and laptops were introduced and brought to the market. With the passage of time, the new technologies are being used in movie cameras, lenses, cars, and computers. The significance and usefulness of these rare metals and raw minerals is highly strategic.
Fortunately, so many religious, cultural, economic and socio-political practices, values and traditions are common among peoples of Eurasian states. Globalisation and multiculturalism are further minimising corrosion of cultures. If there were contradictions in the Soviet Russian society of 1970s as pointed out by Time magazine journalist Hedrick Smith in his two books which he wrote then, unifying factors have now started emerging.
Thousands of containers belonging to manufacturers like Huawei, Samsung, Toshiba, Zara, Apple, and so on are busy in carrying laptops, computers, TV sets, printers, mobile phones, toys, fabric, silk , and energy supply items like oil, gas, bulbs, medical equipment, agricultural machinery and products and what not from and to Eurasian cities as well as world over.
The investment on the construction of transport routes such as the construction of Russia-China road link and pipelines worth millions of dollars shows that life has started bursting out of stagnation.
Nevertheless, one should not be duped by the comfort brought by the new technologies as this is only one side of the coin. The other side is death and destruction which smart weaponry can inflict, with one remote click.
Let us see what President Vladimir Putin , implicitly, seems to be suggesting with his vast knowledge and understanding just hinted above briefly: that 21st Century is the beginning of new era, the era of raw minerals and rare materials. All through Stone, Iron, Bronze and Industrial Ages, the above mentioned elements of atom were there in the crust of the earth, but it is only recently that these have gained currency. Who could imagine just one hundred years earlier that lights could emanate in seven colours of a rainbow by using laser technology? What a pleasant surprise it is that it is the same laser which is being used for surgical operations! Now one does not have to go to a clinic to know one’s blood pressure and pulse rate. Simple installation of a software application in one’s smart phone or in a wristwatch-like device known as fitbit will show the results. Likewise, elements such as Silicon, which have the characteristics of both metals and metalloids, are highly valuable for containing properties of semi-conductors. This has happened just because of magical properties of some of these ingredients. The interest of the public in manufactured items will certainly have a deep impact in the industrial use of rare materials such as neodymium and dysprosium in the mass production of inventions and innovations which further bring revolutionary changes in man’s life made up of image and sound records. Already the world-over use of smart phones, Google, WhatsApp, Skype, and so on has transformed the ways of life which shows a remarkable effort of democratisation of technology on the part of superpowers.
In the coming years, there is alikelihood of the revivification of Silk Road and a phenomenal rise in the economic growth of the Eurasian Union (the NEW EU?), because of availability in abundance of raw minerals and rare materials here in the area. As in the Iron Age around 1400 BC, the invention of swords, daggers and shields depended upon newly-found secret by Central Turkey metal workers that iron gains further strength if heated on a charcoal fire. This compelled soldiers to reject weapons made from bronze. The presence of hybrid cars, solar panels and wind turbines in Pakistan and elsewhere is proof of the fact that what once was science fiction is now a reality.
President Vladimir Putin has envisaged decades ahead, logically and realistically. Not only did he close the chapter about Crimea, he is now ready to mend relations with Turkey provided Ankara takes the peace initiative first. It is also added that Russian Federation is going to extend the Nordstream pipeline in the Baltic, expecting no hindrance at all while blaming the US government and European Commission of forcing Bulgaria to back out of the planned gas pipeline project under the Black Sea. Remember! President Putin is a man of action who stands by his words. It is all the more necessary to understand his priorities, which are centered around the revivification of the Silk Road and constitution of the New EU so that peace and progress could live cheek by jowl.
The spectre of academic plagiarism by high-ranking officials is affecting much of Europe. Germany especially has been in the news: on 9 February 2013, the German Education Minister, Annette Schavan, resigned her position after the Heinrich Heine University in Duesseldorf voted the previous week to remove her doctorate following a review. The University decided to look into Ms Schavan's 1980 doctoral thesis, after an anonymous blogger raised questions about it. The faculty committee found she had ‘systematically and intentionally’ copied parts of her thesis, ‘Person and Conscience.’ In a statement declaring the doctorate invalid and withdrawing it from Ms Schavan, the faculty head Bruno Bleckmann said they had ‘decided by secret ballot, by 12 votes to 2, with one abstention.’
Catching the German education minister plagiarising was like finding out the finance minister had a secret Swiss bank account
Germany's biggest selling newspaper, Bild, said that catching the education minister plagiarising was like finding out the finance minister had a secret Swiss bank account or that the transport minister had been caught drinking and driving. Ms Schavan is suing the University. In 2011, Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg also quit after allegations he had plagiarised his thesis. The press pilloried him as ‘Dr Cut-and-Paste’ and ‘Dr zu Googleberg.’
Europe’s learned leaders
There is a great difference between the English-speaking and continental worlds when it comes to the importance and prestige of holding a research degree.
In 2011, The Economist reported that 114 members of the German Bundestag, 20%, held PhDs, including Angela Merkel, as against 18 members of the 112th Congress in the US, about 3%. In the UK, out of 650 MPs, in 2012 there were a total of 21 with PhDs - 9 Tories, 8 Labour, 2 Lib Dems, 1 Green, and 1 SNP, about 3.2% of the total.
Russia is a country with codified law on the Napoleonic model. Its laws and legal system draw in particular from German models. On 13 January 1934, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR introduced the uchyonaya stepen or ‘stage of learning’ of Kandidat Nauk, [‘candidate of science’]. In Tsarist Russia there was a research degree named ‘candidate of the university.’ According to UNESCO’s International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED), the degree of Kandidat Nauk, which ‘requires public defence of an independently elaborated thesis and by final examinations’ is equivalent to a Western European PhD, and is recognised as such in the UK. As in Germany, the appeal and prestige of holding a research degree extends much wider than academe.
Vladimir Putin has a research degree, Kandidat of Economic Science, which he defended in 1997. Putin was actually a lawyer, and graduated from Leningrad State University in 1975 with a degree in International Law. He joined the KGB on graduation, and served in the former German Democratic Republic from 1985 to 1990. He finally left the KGB in August 1991. Putin wrote and defended his dissertation at the Mining Institute in St Petersburg, where his supervisor was Vladimir Litvinenko, the Institute’s Director. Litvinenko later served as Putin’s St Petersburg campaign manager in the presidential elections in 2000 and 2004.
In March 2006, Igor Danchenko and Clifford Gaddy, fellows at the Brookings Institute in Washington DC, published the results of their research on the authenticity of Putin’s dissertation. They had discovered that significant pieces of the theoretical chapter of Putin’s thesis, entitled ‘Strategic Planning of the Reproduction of the Mineral Resource Base of a Region under Conditions of the Formation of Market Relations’ were either copied verbatim or taken with slight modifications from the translation into Russian (prepared for the KGB) of the classic American textbook ‘Strategic Planning and Policy’ by William King and David Cleland.
Front cover of Putin's dissertation, defended in 1997. Photo: Polit.ruDanchenko and Gaddy had considerable difficulty locating the dissertation, about which Putin has remained silent, but finally they did so, and subjected it to electronic searches. They found that there were more than 16 pages worth of text taken verbatim from King and Cleland. Also, there are at least six diagrams and tables lifted directly or slightly modified from King and Cleland, with no attribution whatever. Putin did not comment on these reports.
Since the 1990s, the number of defended dissertations in Russia has dramatically increased, while their quality has drastically dropped
In 2007, Mikhail Kirpichnikov, then head of the Russian Higher Attestation Commission (HAC, or VAK in Russian), responsible for the composition of the examining bodies (councils) established for each discipline, said that, starting in the early 1990s, the number of defended dissertations in Russia had dramatically increased, while their quality had drastically dropped. At the same time, the number of ‘purchased’ dissertations and ‘pseudo-scientific works’ had also increased.
Levelling the playing field
However, two things have changed this academic situation, with dramatic effect. The first is the wave of mass protests in Moscow and other cities from 2011, in which hundreds of thousands of educated Russian have expressed their fury at corruption in public life, and contempt for the democratic process by the Putin regime.
Second, is the fact that all research dissertations are now placed on the internet, and are subject to scrutiny and investigation.
In November 2012, a group of alumni of the Kolmogorov Centre at Moscow State University (MGU) noticed that the bibliography of the dissertation of the Centre’s director, Andrei Andriyanov, listed articles that were published in journal issues that did not exist. They also noticed that Andriyanov graduated from MGU’s Department of Chemistry, but his Kandidat dissertation was on history, entitled ‘Student Movement in the Social and Political Life of Moscow in 1991–2008.’ The dissertation contained text taken verbatim from various sources without indicating that they were quoted material. In February 2013, Andriyanov was deprived of his PhD, along with 10 other people.
Idioteka journal specializes in exposing pseudo-experts
The next scandal concerned the dissertation of a parliamentary deputy of the ruling United Russia Party, Vladimir Burmatov. His dissertation, defended in 2006, was entitled ‘Formation of the Information Culture of Students in the Activities of the University Mass Media on the Basis of the Culturological Approach.’ A blogger, nicknamed Hyperhov, a creator of Idioteka journal which specializes in exposing pseudo-experts, investigated Burmatov’s dissertation and discovered that about 12 pages of text were taken verbatim from the dissertation of Lyubov Nesterova, entitled ‘Formation of Information Culture of Future Engineers of the Forest Industry in the Course of Humanitarian Studies’, and about seven pages were taken from an article by Alexander Fyodorov entitled ‘Specifics of Media Education of the Students in Pedagogical Universities’, published in Pedagogika journal in 2004.
A physicist and blogger named Andrei Rostovtsev had already developed the Dissernet verification system
A physicist and blogger named Andrei Rostovtsev had already developed the Dissernet verification system. Using this system it was found that Burmatov’s dissertation was almost entirely copied from a work by Alexander Dragunov entitled ‘Formation of Political Culture of Future Journalists in Universities’ (2004). The main difference between the two was that the phrase ‘political culture’ used in Dragunov’s dissertation was replaced by the phrase ‘information culture’ in Burmatov’s work.
'Against falsifiers, fraudsters and liars' - Dissernet logo. Photo: dissernet.orgAs a result, three State Duma deputies asked the Prosecutor’s Office to investigate possible fraud. But in January 2013, the Ministry of Education issued an official reply stating that dissertations that were defended more than three years ago could not be subjected to such an investigation. Burmatov denied all allegations, but was obliged to resign his deputy chairmanship of the State Duma’s Education Committee. Also, upon the request of the Prosecutor’s Office, he had to resign from his position of professor at the Plekhanov School.
The main difference was that the phrase ‘political culture’ used in Dragunov’s dissertation was replaced by the phrase ‘information culture’
In late February 2013, portions of the dissertation of Igor Lebedev, deputy speaker of the State Duma, member of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, and son of the party’s leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, were found to have been plagiarised. Andrei Rostovtsev reported that Lebedev’s dissertation, entitled ‘Evolution of Ideological Bases and Strategies of the Parties of the Russian Federation in 1992–2003’, was to a large extent copied from the dissertation of Mikhail Kornev, entitled ‘Dominating Factors of Party-Building in Contemporary Russia,’ which was defended a year earlier.
The investigation of research dissertations was soon even better organised. In January 2013, Andrei Rostovtsev got together with the well-known investigative journalist and blogger Sergei Parkhomenko. With Mikhail Gelfand, a Doktor of Biological Science, and Andrei Zayakin, a Kandidat of Physical and Mathematical Science they founded Dissernet.org
Cutting and pasting
In early March 2014, I met Sergei Parkhomenko. He is 50 years old, was one of the founders in 1994 of the Moscow Charter of Journalists, and has published and held senior positions in many of the leading Russian critical newspapers, magazines, radio stations and websites.
The work of Parkhomenko and his colleagues has been named ‘Plagiarism-Gate’ by Olga Khvostunova of the Institute for Modern Russia, who writes: ‘Russia has been shaken by a series of scandals concerning the exposure of plagiarism in the dissertations of politicians and officials.’
Instead of examining chocolate as Orlova did, Igoshin focused on beef
In March 2013, Parkhomenko published the results of another Dissernet investigation. This time, the subject was State Duma deputy and member of United Russia, Igor Igoshin. The main body of his text, entitled ‘Increasing Competitiveness of Enterprises on the Basis of Implementation of Their Market Potential (The Case of the Food Industry)’, was borrowed from the dissertation of Natalia Orlova, entitled ‘Market Potential as a Basis for Competitiveness of Confectionary Enterprises.’ But instead of examining chocolate as Orlova did, Igoshin focused on beef. As Parkhomenko noted, Igoshin ‘used imagination’ in replacing the relevant terms: ‘“Chocolate,” without any other indications, turned into “meat” in general. “Confectionary” became “meat-processing.” “White chocolate” became “Russian beef.” “Regular milk chocolate” became “imported beef.” Elegant “dark chocolate” turned into “bone-in beef of any origin.”’ By utilising ‘search and replace’ in someone else’s dissertation, Igoshin was awarded a Kandidat of Economic Science.
Writing in The New Yorker in March 2013, Masha Lipman of the Moscow Carnegie Institute observed, ‘Lawmakers and other holders of fraudulent degrees presumably don’t even bother with the copy-and-pasting or batch replacement; they simply pay others to write their dissertations for them. But those hired to engage in a major falsehood can hardly be expected to be models of integrity. They are not the sort of ghost writers who do quality research that a lawmaker would put his name on; they steal.’ The difference between Germany and Russia, she continued, is that in Russia pervasive corruption is taken for granted, and one tends to be amused rather than shocked by the exposure of dissertation plagiarism and fraud.
In Russia pervasive corruption is taken for granted, one tends to be amused rather than shocked by exposure of dissertation plagiarism
The scandal that hit the headlines in April 2013 concerned the dissertation of Pavel Astakhov, Children’s Ombudsman of the Russian Federation, entitled ‘Juridical Conflicts and Contemporary Forms of Their Resolutions (Theoretic and Legal Study).’ Parkhomenko published the results of a Dissernet investigation of Astakhov’s dissertation. Astakhov had combined a number of short texts borrowed from more than a dozen sources to produce his dissertation. On 28 January 2014, it was reported by the opposition web-site grani.ru, citing an examination carried out in September 2013 by the Russian State Library, that Pavel Astakhov’s dissertation was 99.32% copied from other sources. Excluding paraphrasing and text taken from his own master's thesis, 31.07% of Astakhov's dissertation was found to be copied verbatim. The Library subsequently denied that it had carried out such checks.
Example of Dissernet research showing plagiarism in the dissertation of judge Dmitriy Gordeyuk, 2013. Photo: Dissernet Wiki By the end of 2013, Dissernet had examined over 700 dissertations, and ‘malevolent copypasting’ was discovered in about 300. All of these are to be found on the Dissernet.org site, with photographs of the ‘scholars’ concerned, and colour-coded web versions of their ‘dissertations’, showing exactly what was copied and from which sources. The authors of these dissertations are not only academics, but also government officials at regional and national level, judges, practising lawyers, and businessmen. Four more were exposed in May 2014.
Bastrykin lost his cool when questioned about plagiarism
Lipman returned to the issue in the New Yorker in November 2013, under the headline ‘Heckling Russia’s J. Edgar Hoover.’ The previous week, Aleksandr Bastrykin, the head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, responsible, for example, for the prosecution of the Greenpeace ‘Arctic 30’ protesters, and close to Putin, was invited to take part in a conference in Paris on penal reform in Russia and France. Bastrykin lost his cool when questioned about plagiarism. ‘Wrongful appropriation’ had been thoroughly documented in Bastrykin’s work, not in a dissertation, in his case, but in a book published in 2004 entitled ‘Znaki Ruki. Daktiloskopiya’ (‘Signs of the Hand. Dactyloscopy’).
Dissernet produced a chart showing how much of Bastrykin’s book had been ‘borrowed’ from other sources: illustrations, the table of contents, the title, and a preface accounted for about half of the book’s 370 pages. Of the rest, about 60 overlapped fully or significantly (with just a few words altered here and there) with Russian translations of two books: a German work on criminal science; and ‘Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover’, by Anthony Summers, an American, published in 1993 and translated into Russian in 2001.
The plagiarists fight back
By the end of 2013, some of those exposed by Dissernet began to strike back. In December 2013, the Presnensky District Court of Moscow upheld a defamation claim filed by two Moscow judges against the opposition weekly, the New Times in respect of an article entitled ‘Plagiarists in robes’, and ordered the magazine to pay 1.1m roubles (£18,600) compensation. The judges were Moscow City Court judge Dmitry Gordeyuk and retired judge Yury Bespalov. Dissernet had shown that Judge Gordeyuk’s thesis had been plagiarized from his mentor Bespalov. The Court rejected a defence application for an independent expert evaluation of the dissertation.
Minister of Education Dmitry Livanov admitted widespread plagiarism in dissertations by Russian officials.
A similar claim was upheld by the Basmanny court against the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta for publishing an article entitled ‘Is it your plagiarism, your honour?’ However, lower damages were ordered. Again, the judge, Marina Tsyvkina, refused almost all the defence applications, including an application for inclusion in the court file of a copy of the dissertation. The paper’s appeal was dismissed by the notorious Moscow City Court.
On 10 February 2014, Dmitry Livanov, the Minister of Education and Science gave an interview to the business daily Kommersant, in which he denounced Dissernet, saying that its activities were harming the public image of the Russian academic community. However, Livanov admitted widespread plagiarism in dissertations by Russian officials.
Dissernet co-founder, journalist Sergei Parkhomenko, at a conference in Moscow, 2013. Photo: Flickr/ Ilya Schurov On 11 February 2014 Sergei Parkhomenko replied to Livanov, concluding:
‘We want to recall the principles, which the experts and reporters of the internet community over and over again emphasise in their publications. Dissernet does not carry on a struggle with violations of academic ethics, but with violations of ethnics as such. In the last analysis, we are not interested in the problem of falsified dissertations or even the problem of dissertations in general. We are interested in the problem of falsified reputations; if you like, with the problem of lies. The simple method of analysing dissertations has turned out to be unbelievably productive and effective for studying the epidemic of total lies, hypocrisy and fraud with which the Russian elite is today infected.’
Dissernet is careful not to use the word ‘plagiarism,’ Parkhomenko and his colleagues use the phrase ‘incorrect borrowing.’
Dissernet is careful not to use the word ‘plagiarism;’ Parkhomenko and his colleagues use the phrase ‘incorrect borrowing.’ They emphasises that their investigations and reports are all carried out in strict accordance with Russian law. The results of electronic search and comparison are displayed objectively and in full, with minimal comment. Of course, Parkhomenko and his colleagues might use the phrase ‘incorrect borrowing,’ but everyone knows what they mean.
Aggrieved subjects of Dissernet investigations not only have access to actions for defamation in civil law; after his re-election, President Putin reinstated the offence of ‘criminal libel,’ which had been abolished by former President Medvedev. The real problem, which Dissernet has identified, is the fact that most of the hundreds of ‘scholars’ whose details and ‘dissertations’ appear on the website really do not care about their exposure. They are not prosecuted, and most do not lose their jobs.