The edi­tors of the stu­dent mag­a­zine DOXA, Armen Aramyan, Alla Gut­niko­va, Vladimir Metelkin, and Natasha Tyshke­vich, joined the ranks of jour­nal­ists who are increas­ing­ly being «reward­ed» by the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment for their hon­est, self­less work. They are reward­ed with crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion. The brave four have been “award­ed”, or, more pre­cise­ly, charged so far, with Arti­cle 151.2 of the Crim­i­nal Code on “involv­ing minors in activ­i­ties known to be dan­ger­ous to their lives and health” — mean­ing going out to street protests. The first part of the award was “pre­sent­ed” to each of them in the form of an elec­tron­ic bracelet and a rul­ing on actu­al­ly house arrest for two months, with a ban on com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the out­side world and use of the Internet.

But there is anoth­er ini­tia­tive by our young col­leagues that we are hap­py to note here — DOX­A’s first seri­ous pro­fes­sion­al achieve­ment in the field of inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism — a joint pub­li­ca­tion with the expe­ri­enced reporters from Project media that was pub­lished under the title “Edu­ca­tion­al Qual­i­fi­ca­tion” (writ­ten by Anas­ta­sia Kuts, Tatiana Kolobak­i­na, Niki­ta Kuchin­sky, Ger­man Nechaev, with the par­tic­i­pa­tion of Yulia Apukhti­na and Mstislav Gri­vachev). 

The sto­ry saw the light exact­ly the day after the law enforce­ment agen­cies tried to shut the four DOXA edi­tors out of the spot­light. Although the authors them­selves con­sid­ered their arti­cle a study of who teach­es Russ­ian youth, in our opin­ion, it com­plies with the cri­te­ria we use when ana­lyz­ing and assess­ing the best inves­ti­ga­tions that appear on the hori­zon of inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ism in Russia. 

The authors have divid­ed their text into four chap­ters. The first tells the sto­ry of democ­ra­cy hav­ing dis­ap­peared from uni­ver­si­ties. The sec­ond deals with the advent of the Unit­ed Rus­sia Par­ty (URP) to the lead­er­ship of uni­ver­si­ties. The third tells the sto­ry of what the authors con­sid­er to be the most odi­ous uni­ver­si­ty rec­tors in Rus­sia. And, final­ly, the fourth gives an idea of what the FSB (the Russ­ian secret police) are doing at universities.

The jour­nal­ists dis­cov­ered that the over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of uni­ver­si­ty admin­is­tra­tors in Rus­sia are one way or anoth­er con­nect­ed with the gov­ern­ment and the pro-gov­ern­ment Unit­ed Rus­sia par­ty. This fact alone explains the inten­si­fy­ing repres­sion of polit­i­cal­ly active stu­dents and pro­fes­sors. The screws in the uni­ver­si­ties have tight­ened as the protest has “reju­ve­nat­ed”. The authors describe in detail the his­to­ry of how Russ­ian uni­ver­si­ties ceased to be a place for dis­cus­sion. The text is accom­pa­nied by an excel­lent info­graph­ic that traces the events depict­ed in the text as the strug­gle against dis­sent from 2007 to the present.

Jour­nal­ists remem­ber the “blessed” times of March­es of Dis­sent. In 2008, the admin­is­tra­tion of the High­er School of Eco­nom­ics (HSE, or sim­ply Vyssh­ka) respond­ed to a let­ter from Major-Gen­er­al Alexan­der Ivanov of the Moscow Depart­ment of Inter­nal Affairs, who sug­gest­ed that the six stu­dents who had par­tic­i­pat­ed in the ral­lies be “con­sid­ered for fur­ther study” with a dash­ing rebuff: “The polit­i­cal affil­i­a­tions of stu­dents are their pri­vate mat­ter”. In 2019, polit­i­cal lean­ings were no longer “per­son­al”. Dur­ing the Moscow protests against the non-admis­sion of inde­pen­dent can­di­dates to the Moscow City Duma elec­tions, when the crim­i­nal case was brought against stu­dent Yegor Zhukov, the same Vysh­ka admin­is­tra­tion, in the same line­up, began to talk about the fact that “the uni­ver­si­ty is beyond pol­i­tics”. Soon the best pro­fes­sors, whose beliefs did not con­form to “polit­i­cal stan­dards” were dragged out of the uni­ver­si­ty. Final­ly, in the win­ter of 2020, Vyssh­ka banned its staff and stu­dents from using their affil­i­a­tion with the HSE when mak­ing pub­lic polit­i­cal state­ments. All of this was tak­ing place at a uni­ver­si­ty that had once been hailed as a show­case for liberalism.

Pol­i­tics, of course, came to the uni­ver­si­ty. It came in the guise of Unit­ed Rus­sia Par­ty. Project media and DOXA ana­lyzed the biogra­phies of 559 rec­tors, vice-rec­tors and deputies in charge of “secu­ri­ty and upbring­ing” of Rus­si­a’s top 100 uni­ver­si­ties, accord­ing to Forbes mag­a­zine. The jour­nal­ists found out that 74 per­cent of them are in some way con­nect­ed with the gov­ern­ment; 47 per­cent are URP mem­bers (includ­ing those who have the sta­tus of a deputy). Twen­ty-four per­cent of the uni­ver­si­ty man­agers once were deputies at var­i­ous lev­els, are deputies at the present time, were can­di­dates for the deputy’s office, or par­tic­i­pat­ed in the pri­maries. No less than two per­cent are for­mer mem­bers of the law enforce­ment agen­cies, and 14 per­cent lit up as prox­ies of Putin, May­or Sobyanin and for­mer Prime Min­is­ter (Pres­i­dent) Dmit­ry Medvedev.

As an illus­tra­tion of these poli­cies, jour­nal­ists present detailed por­traits of nine rectors. 

The rich­est in this com­pa­ny Vladimir Litvi­nenko, rec­tor of St. Peters­burg Min­ing Uni­ver­si­ty since 1994 (accord­ing to Forbes, his for­tune exceeds $1.5 bil­lion) is known for super­vis­ing Vladimir Putin’s and Igor Sechin’s PhD the­sis, as well as for being sev­er­al times the head of Putin’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign head­quar­ters. The ori­gin of his bil­lions has become the sub­ject of jour­nal­is­tic inves­ti­ga­tions more than once. 

The youngest is Natalia Pochi­nok, who became the rec­tor of the Russ­ian State Social Uni­ver­si­ty (RSSU) in place of her deceased hus­band, for­mer Labor Min­is­ter Alexan­der Pochi­nok, who was about to take up the posi­tion but passed away. She is known to be proxy of two per­sons at once – both Putin and Sobyanin (the may­or of Moscow). In 2019, she ran for the Moscow City Duma with the sup­port of URP, but lost her chance. Natalia Pochi­nok became famous for the fact that under her lead­er­ship at RGSU in Octo­ber 2019 alone, sev­er­al dozen stu­dents who were detained or sim­ply par­tic­i­pat­ed in sum­mer protests went through pre­ven­tive con­ver­sa­tions with the uni­ver­si­ty’s secu­ri­ty ser­vice. Stu­dents com­plained of threats and polit­i­cal­ly moti­vat­ed expul­sions. And, inci­den­tal­ly, it was the arti­cle about Natalia Pochi­nok that was the final straw that caused Vyssh­ka to revoke DOXA mag­a­zine’s sta­tus as a stu­dent orga­ni­za­tion in Decem­ber 2019, and, accord­ing­ly, the university’s finan­cial sup­port for the magazine. 

The authors of the inves­ti­ga­tion drew atten­tion to two man­age­r­i­al posi­tions at Russ­ian uni­ver­si­ties whose hold­ers are pri­mar­i­ly involved in deal­ing with “polit­i­cal­ly unre­li­able” stu­dents (and some­times pro­fes­sors). These are vice-rec­tors or heads of depart­ments for edu­ca­tion­al work and secu­ri­ty. Project and DOXA iden­ti­fied 78 such posi­tions at the 100 uni­ver­si­ties they stud­ied. Retired or active secu­ri­ty per­son­nel make up the high­est pro­por­tion among this cat­e­go­ry of employ­ees. Even in open sources one can find ref­er­ences to ties to law enforce­ment agen­cies — the FSB, Inte­ri­or Min­istry, Fed­er­al Migra­tion Ser­vice, Defense Min­istry, Fed­er­al Bailiff Ser­vice, and Fed­er­al Pen­i­ten­tiary Ser­vice- — in one third of cases. 

The vice-rec­tor for secu­ri­ty posi­tion is not even a Russ­ian, but a Sovi­et know-how. And the point here is not that some tech­ni­cal uni­ver­si­ties offer access to state secrets, which these spe­cial­ly trained young peo­ple are sup­posed to pro­tect, but rather the con­trol over dis­sent, which the author­i­ties want to erad­i­cate by the root. To be more pre­cise, it is about free-think­ing among stu­dents and fac­ul­ty. Dur­ing Sovi­et times, this task was entrust­ed to rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the KGB, not only at uni­ver­si­ties, but also at all oth­er state and pub­lic orga­ni­za­tions. So the “new” uni­ver­si­ty order is a throw­back to the Sovi­et past.

Along with crit­i­cal thought, the intel­lec­tu­al com­po­nent is also swept out of uni­ver­si­ties. This is par­tic­u­lar­ly evi­dent in the “sci­en­tif­ic achieve­ments” of the URP ori­gin uni­ver­si­ty author­i­ties. The authors have stud­ied the biogra­phies of uni­ver­si­ty lead­ers in terms of the Hirsch index (a com­mon indi­ca­tor of a sci­en­tist’s pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, based on the num­ber of his/her pub­li­ca­tions and their cita­tions) and the pres­ence of incor­rect bor­row­ings in their sci­en­tif­ic work, as revealed by the Dis­ser­net project. The pic­ture turned out so-so: the medi­an val­ue of the Hirsch index for the rec­tors of the first hun­dred Russ­ian uni­ver­si­ties is three.  By com­par­i­son, the heads of the top 100 for­eign uni­ver­si­ties have a medi­an val­ue of 38. Thir­ty per­cent of Russ­ian rec­tors do not have the index at all, or it is equal to zero. Incor­rect bor­row­ings, in a word, pla­gia­rism, were found in the works of 19 rec­tors of the top 100 universities.

Any­way, the advent of the URP to uni­ver­si­ties was not sup­posed to start mov­ing sci­ence there. Hav­ing suc­cess­ful­ly demon­strat­ed that the Duma is no place for dis­cus­sion, they went to the uni­ver­si­ty to form the core of edu­ca­tion, which is incom­pat­i­ble with the free­dom of thought. 

…And a few more words on DOXA. Dmit­ry Peskov, Putin’s press sec­re­tary, when asked how the Krem­lin views the sit­u­a­tion when stu­dents are being searched at their homes at 6 a.m. because of a video they have even already removed at the request of Roskom­nad­zor, pre­dictably replied “in no way”, adding that he “does not com­ment on court deci­sions”. But then he expand­ed his own “no answer”, say­ing that DOXA is not a stu­dent pub­li­ca­tion, but rather “has a socio-polit­i­cal nature”, and that “even for this rea­son” he “would not com­ment on anything”. 

The inten­tion of the author­i­ties to pro­hib­it any­thing “socio-polit­i­cal” in the inde­pen­dent pub­lic space is noth­ing new. The law passed by the Duma that actu­al­ly pro­hibits any edu­ca­tion­al activ­i­ty in the coun­try unless it is approved by the state has been signed by the pres­i­dent. But some­times a lit­tle touch can illu­mi­nate the over­all pic­ture of obscu­ran­tism even bet­ter than the whole law. Mari­na Azizbekyan, moth­er of Armen Aramyan, one of the detained DOXA edi­tors, recalls in her inter­view to Meduza media how the search with­out the war­rant began at 6:20 a.m. in their house, dur­ing which Armen was not present (he had been detained at the edi­to­r­i­al office that morn­ing, and Mari­na’s three oth­er chil­dren were home): “They went through all the books. They were indig­nant as to why there were so many of them. I said, «He’s a sci­en­tist, so there are a lot of books’. They thought: if there are so many books, then there must be some for­bid­den lit­er­a­ture. I said that we bought all the books in the book­store. They respond­ed that the list [of banned mate­ri­als] is con­stant­ly updated…”. 

Search tech­nolo­gies used by the authors: work with open sources, data­bas­es, jour­nal­ists’ own sources, infor­ma­tion from social networks.

Tech­niques used: analy­sis of the entire array of data obtained, inter­views, mak­ing graphs and charts.

Expert Analy­sis and Assessment
Galina Sidorova
Gali­na Sidorova
Ask a ques­tion
Pub­lic Value
100 /100
Entire­ty of the Investigation
80 /100
100 /100
80 /100
Reli­a­bil­i­ty of Sources
90 /100
95 /100
Strengths & Weaknesses
hard work on col­lect­ing data, which made it pos­si­ble to com­pile the most com­plete pic­ture of those who run the high­er edu­ca­tion in Rus­sia today; care­ful han­dling of links; a lot of facts; the text is eas­i­ly read; high qual­i­ty info-graph­ics and presentation.
lack of expert’s com­ments; no inter­views with the char­ac­ters, which, how­ev­er, is accept­able, since the sto­ry is claimed to be research, rather than a full-fledged investigation.