Nikolay Rogulin, candidate of history and associate professor at the Department of Source Studies of Russian History, successfully defended his thesis on 12 December 2014 — for a second time, 14 years after his first defence at the dissertation council. This time the defence took place in court.

The Nevsky District Court ruled in favour of the plaintiff who had filed a plagiarism lawsuit against the Vice-Rector of the State Polar Academy S. Litvinenko (see Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 22 December 2014, clause 8). According to some sources, this is the first successful “defence” of this type in the recent history of Russia!

“It got stolen!”

In August 2012, Nikolay Rogulin discovered by chance that his candidate’s thesis had been “stolen”. He saw a similar research topic online and was surprised. How could he have missed it before? According to Rogulin, the military pedagogical heritage of Generalissimo Alexander Suvorov had not been a popular topic among historians in recent years. This was despite the striking personality and great achievements of this outstanding Russian military commander. And here he finds a whole thesis, and a doctoral thesis at that!

Rogulin looked at it more attentively — and he saw a very familiar text. His own text! Materials from his candidate’s thesis were included in their entirety in S. Litvinenko’s doctoral “thesis”. They comprised its first three chapters. The reference list was also the same. Not only were the same works cited, but they were also cited in the same order as in Rogulin’s thesis. The conclusions at the end were also Rogulin’s. The rest of the chapters in that “thesis” were actually a compilation of works published by various authors in different years or papers read at conferences. This became known later, however, after the analysis of Litvinenko’s “work” had been carried out.

As the period of limitation had already expired, Rogulin could not appeal to the Higher Attestation Commission and demand that they revoke their decision to award Litvinenko his doctoral degree. Litvinenko had defended his doctoral “thesis” in 2001, and it “resurfaced” from the depths of the Internet 11 years later. The only way was to go to court and punish the plagiarist.

The lawyers who represented Rogulin in court were former St Petersburg University students: D. Salmin, junior research fellow from the University’s Department of Civil Law; and G. Melkov, leading lawyer from the Gessen Law Firm and a doctoral student at the University’s Department of Civil Procedure. They had a substantial task. The lawsuit was filed in November 2013, and the litigation lasted for over a year. The entire preparation for the legal defence of the thesis took over two years.

The thesis is authentic...

During the court hearings, the defendant S. Litvinenko came up with an interesting explanation. He alleged that the thesis had been written by Litvinenko and Rogulin jointly. However, his “colleague” (Rogulin) was faster and defended the thesis a year earlier than Litvinenko himself! Let us see if there is any truth in this.

After graduation from Leningrad State University in 1981, the historian Nikolay Rogulin started working at the Alexander Suvorov Museum. As a researcher, he became interested in the military history of Russia. The museum at the time was undergoing an extensive transformation from a military history museum to a memorial museum. The life of Alexander Suvorov and his art of military strategy were being actively studied, while the attitude to him was changing once again. During his 19 years of work at the museum (from 1982 to 2001), Rogulin rose from junior research assistant to assistant director for research work.

In 1993, S. Kashchenko, who headed the Department of Source Studies of Russian History, suggested that Rogulin should prepare and write a candidate’s thesis. Rogulin’s undergraduate qualification work had been written on the topic offered by the Department of History of the USSR. He had even started working on the material for his thesis under the supervision of Professor A. Shapiro. Now, however, he decided to change his plans and started working on a new topic: a historiographical study of Suvorov’s work “Regiment Institution” (1764-1765).

“As it turned out, this was one of the very first works on military education in Russia. By the way, it used not only Russian but also European experiences. This exciting topic got me really interested. I was able to find and research numerous sources, including the writings of Frederick II of Prussia,” Nikolay Rogulin said. 

The topic of his candidate’s thesis was “Suvorov’s ‘Regiment Institution’ as a source for studying the history of military education and training in the Russian army of the 1760s”, field of study 07.00.09 “Historiography, Source Studies and Approaches to Historical Studies”. At the Dissertation Council of St Petersburg University on 26 April 2000, the defence was successful: not a single negative vote was cast.

In 2002, Nikolay Rogulin started reading lecture courses to history students at St Petersburg University; and in 2004 he became employed by the University on a full-time basis as an associate professor. In 2005, Rogulin published a monograph based on his thesis, further developing the topic by adding the results of his research into infantry instructions at the time of Catherine the Great. Associate Professor Rogulin has read a lecture course on Sources for Studying Military History of Russia to fifth-year full-time and part-time students as well as a course on History Resources on the Internet.

...and another “thesis”

And what about his “colleague” S. Litvinenko?

Rogulin met Litvinenko in the middle of the 1990s, when he still worked at the Suvorov Museum. The military school of communications was located nearby: the museum was on Saltykova-Shchedrina Street and the military school on Suvorovsky Avenue. Military students were often brought to the museum where a new exhibition was being worked on from 1994 to 1998. The employees of the museum used to read lectures to students of the military school. Rogulin was a research assistant of the Suvorov Museum, and Litvinenko worked at the department of military ethics for the members of the armed forces personnel at the military school. They had a business relationship. However, this was not a relationship of two colleagues doing research together, even though the defendant insisted that it had been the case.

At that time, Rogulin was collecting the material and writing his thesis. Litvinenko showed interest in his work, and said it would be exciting to see how historians write their dissertations ... He asked the author to give him the completed work to read. He later returned it but, as it became apparent later, not before making a copy of it. Nikolay Rogulin told me with a smile that when he finally had a chance to see Litvinenko’s “thesis”, he noticed eyelet puncher marks on the pages! The so called “author” had not even bothered to type out the pages copied from Rogulin’s thesis; he had just inserted the photocopied pages into his own “research”. This further confirmed the assumption of the plaintiff that the “thesis” had been written in a single copy — the one that was submitted to the Higher Attestation Commission.

In the course of the trial, other interesting facts emerged. In 1998, Litvinenko defended a candidate’s thesis on differentiated training of military students. Only three years later, he managed to prepare a doctoral thesis on a totally different topic: “Theory and practice of military pedagogy in A. Suvorov’s heritage”. He defended it on 24 June 2001! The court, however, could not obtain the information on who his official opponents had been and what organisation had served as the external reviewer. The extended abstract of his doctoral “thesis” had not been forwarded to either the Russian State Library, or the National Library of Russia or the Library of the Russian Academy of Sciences and other libraries, as is required by the procedure. In the summer of 2014, Rogulin’s lawyer D. Salmin sent requests to all Russian libraries to which mandatory copies of the extended abstract of the defendant’s thesis should have been sent. All the libraries replied that they did not have any copies of the extended abstract.

“This is an impossibly tight timescale for a historian! It is a rare occasion when a historian manages to collect the material and prepare a doctoral thesis in less than 10 years. Litvinenko, however, judging by the dates, managed to ‘break fresh ground and cultivate it’ in just three years,” Nikolay Rogulin said, throwing up his hands in disbelief. “But at the same time, he never published a single article (!) on the topic of his doctoral research...”

The lawsuit

Rogulin, helped by the University lawyers, collected the body of evidence. The lawsuit was filed with the Nevsky District Court (at the place of residence of the defendant) on 27 November 2013. In his claim, the plaintiff asked the court to recognise his author’s rights to the thesis and two articles. They had been published before the defence procedure, and had been included in the thesis as its part. He also asked to recognise that Litvinenko had plagiarised his work, and to compel the defendant to publish a retraction in the Journal of Military History. This is one of the leading Russian publications on this topic, which is included by the Higher Attestation Commission in the list of peer-reviewed scientific and academic journals. Following the recommendations of his lawyers, Rogulin also demanded financial compensation from Litvinenko for violating his copyright as well as compensation for moral damage. The lawsuit also named the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation as a co-defendant in the case. The plaintiff demanded that information on plagiarism in Litvinenko’s “thesis” should be published on the official website of the Ministry.

“The Higher Attestation Commission is supposed to carry out an expert review of all theses and dissertations, especially doctoral theses. If that had been done, any expert would have noticed the glaring inconsistencies in Litvinenko’s ‘thesis’,” Rogulin explained. 

First of all, an expert would have noticed the differences in the reference systems used in the text. Since Litvinenko assembled his “thesis” slapdash with the help of glue and scissors, the “seams” of this compilation work are right there on the surface. Litvinenko compiled texts belonging to different authors from different fields (history and education science), written at different times. The system that is used to reference cited works is changing all the time. Hence the inconsistencies... There are also obvious errors: for instance, the Central State Military History Archives, which is constantly cited as a source by Litvinenko, did not exist in 2001. It had been renamed and was at that time called the Russian State Military History Archives, i.e. Russian and not Central. There are numerous other blatant errors, showing the incompetence of the author.

The evidence

The court hearings started in January 2014. Nothing important happened until May, since the defendant’s party was familiarising itself with the case. During that time, Litvinenko made several attempts to meet with Rogulin in order to settle the case outside of court. Rogulin himself says that he was ready to settle the case amicably, but he had a non-negotiable demand: Litvinenko had to publicly recognise the fact of plagiarism.

Nikolay Rogulin explained to me why it was so important for him to defend the author’s rights. He is a university teacher, and his thoughts ran as follows: if he managed to find this so-called thesis online, his students might do the same. Rogulin published his monograph entitled “Suvorov’s Regiment Institution and Infantry Instructions at the Time of Catherine II” in 2005. This was after the defence of Litvinenko’s “thesis” (2001). These two texts coincide to a very great extent through no fault of Rogulin. He was concerned that if his students compared the text of his monograph with Litvinenko’s “thesis”, they might suspect that their teacher was guilty of plagiarism.

In the spring of 2014, the plagiarism case attracted the attention of the media and the Internet community. They were apparently on the side of the University professor. This is seen in articles and other materials at Agentstvo “Telegraph” ; Fontanka.ruNovaya GazetaIA “Mangazea”, as well as the Dissernet portal.

In June, Litvinenko filed a counter-claim: he claimed that it was Rogulin who “copied off” his work. At the hearings the defendant said that he supposedly had some drafts. According to him, they showed that he had been working on the topic of the thesis. However, he never submitted any such drafts to the court. It was much easier to prove that Litvinenko “borrowed other people’s work”. For example, he often cites archival documents in his “work” — the same ones as Rogulin. The archives, however, keep records on all requests to see the materials, and it is therefore very easy to find out that Rogulin did work with the documents and the plagiarist did not.

Litvinenko is a professional political officer, while Rogulin is a professional historian. There is more than enough evidence proving the authenticity and originality of Rogulin’s thesis. For instance, there is his rough draft with the analysis of the infantry code of Frederick II and other texts written in a special cursive script of the 18th century. This draft was submitted to the court. “The 18th-century cursive is rather difficult to understand. Before using it in my thesis, I first made a word-for-word translation, using a pen,” Rogulin explained to me. “I still have those fragments. I have kept them in a separate file because I wanted one day to work on them again and publish them in their entirety. The Infantry Code of Frederick II, in my opinion, served as a source of some Suvorov’s views on military education. And this code is still unpublished.”

As for Litvinenko, the curious “originality” of his “work” has also been proven. For example, the text of his “thesis” includes the text written by St Petersburg University student Anna Khancha, which she had prepared for a research conference. It is notable that Litvinenko included not only the text but also the student’s typing errors into his “work”.

The defendant’s party put forward curious arguments. For instance, one of the points was that Rogulin’s thesis was written in the field of history, while Litvinenko’s “thesis” was written in the field of education. Does this really mean that there can be no plagiarism? Or: the same passages can be found on different pages of the two works. Again, do the differences in page numbers prove the absence of plagiarism? And what should we call it then? An honest copying perhaps?

Expert review

After the two claims had been filed, the court commissioned an expert assessment of Rogulin’s and Litvinenko’s theses. The review was carried out by OOO Centre of Independent Professional Expert Assessment “PetroExpert”. “I did not really need an expert opinion, since my own experience with historical sources is quite enough,” Nikolay Rogulin said. “For instance, I know my own excessive use of parenthetic words, so any expert can recognise my text because of that feature. In the same way I have been able to single out and identify the features of Litvinenko’s style. The parts of his “thesis” where he puts together fragments from other people’s writings and has to use his own words to link them contain abrupt and brisk phrasing, which are easily recognisable.”

The expert assessment required works written by the plaintiff and the defendant. Rogulin submitted his papers published in various journals and the text of his thesis. Litvinenko could not submit the draft of his thesis because he did not have one. Other works written by him on the topic of his “thesis” were also absent. During one of the hearings, the plaintiff admitted that he had misled the dissertation council of the Ministry of Internal Affairs: he had never published a single article on the topic of his “doctoral thesis”. The experts had to use the text of his candidate’s thesis for comparison. The results of the expert assessment were the following: it is highly likely that Rogulin’s thesis and the corresponding parts of Litvinenko’s “thesis” were written by Rogulin.

Experts from the Dissernet Internet community conducted their own study of the texts of Rogulin’s thesis and Litvinenko’s “thesis” and came to similar conclusions:

  • “In the main body of Litvinenko’s work, we have found continuous, multi-page, wrongfully appropriated fragments from seven sources...”, ranging from 6 to 100 pages continuously! Altogether, 277 pages from the 372 pages of the main body of Litvinenko’s “thesis” subjected to analysis were found to have been appropriated from other sources, with 209 pages copied from Rogulin’s thesis! 
  • “The appropriation of other people’s work is large, literal and continuous to such an extent that it would be irrelevant to discuss the presence or absence of corresponding references to them in the text of the thesis…”
  • “Of special note is the literal appropriation by Litvinenko of the reference list from the thesis written by Rogulin...”
  • “The most inappropriate fact from the point of view of academic ethics, which also totally contradicts the statutory provisions for thesis research, is that no less than half of the text of the ‘Conclusions’ does not belong to the alleged author of the thesis...” In the conclusions section of the thesis, a researcher is supposed to “provide a concise presentation of the new academic or scientific problem that he/she has solved” and describe his/her personal contribution to the academic field. It looks highly emblematic that even Litvinenko’s “personal contribution to the academic field” was copied from somebody else. 

On 12 December 2014, the Judge Natalia Ikonnikova, on the basis of the evidence in the case, passed the following judgement: to recognise the fact of plagiarism by Litvinenko and compel the defendant to publish a retraction in the Journal of Military History; the defendant is also compelled to pay to the plaintiff 150,000 roubles in compensation for the violations of his exclusive rights and 50,000 roubles in compensation for moral damage.

...Cases of plagiarism in the academic community unfortunately do happen, but in this day and age only Rogulin was determined enough to protect his rights in court and managed to achieve success. The court decision has unequivocally confirmed who is an honest researcher and who is a plagiarist. Nikolay Rogulin says that his success is easy to explain: he had the support of the University behind him.