Pages verbose and vague thesis was failed twice at University of London before finally succeeding in 2011
Carter Page, Donald Trumps former foreign policy adviser, accused his British examiners of anti-Russian bias after they took the highly unusual step of failing his verbose and vague PhD thesis, not once but twice.
Page was a little-known oil consultant who lived and worked in Moscow when he joined Trumps campaign in March 2016. The then-candidate named Page as one of five foreign policy advisers, calling him Carter Page PhD in a meeting with the Washington Posts editorial board.
In fact, Page took three attempts to gain his doctorate from the University of London, finally succeeding in 2011.
In emails seen by the Guardian, Page compares his decade-long struggle to get a postgraduate qualification to the ordeal suffered by Mikhail Khodorkovsy the Russian oligarch sent to a Siberian prison by Vladimir Putin.
In one unhappy note to his examiners, he writes: Your actions to date have been far more destructive than anything I have personally experienced in my 39 years on this planet. The fate of Khodorkovsky, he adds, represents the closest analogy in recent history to my trials.
Page eventually quit the Trump campaign amid controversy over a July 2016 visit to Moscow, and he has been under investigation over alleged connections with Russian officials.
Page first submitted his thesis on central Asias transition from communism to capitalism in 2008. Two respected academics, Professor Gregory Andrusz, and Dr Peter Duncan, were asked to read his thesis and to examine him in a face-to-face interview known as a viva.
Andrusz said he had expected it would be easy to pass Page, a student at the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas). He said it actually took days and days to wade through Pages work. Page knew next to nothing about social science and seemed unfamiliar with basic concepts like Marxism or state capitalism, the professor said.
The viva, held at University College, London, went badly. Page seemed to think that if he talked enough, people would think he was well-informed. In fact it was the reverse, Andrusz said. He added that Page was dumbfounded when the examiners told him he had failed.
Their subsequent report was withering. It said Pages thesis was characterised by considerable repetition, verbosity and vagueness of expression, failed to meet the criteria required for a PhD, and needed substantial revision. He was given 18 months to produce another draft.
Page resubmitted in November 2010. Although this essay was a substantial improvement it still didnt merit a PhD and wasnt publishable in a learned journal of international repute, Andrusz noted. When after a four-hour interview, the examiners informed him he had failed again, Page grew extremely agitated.
He accused us of bias in our assessment of his work on the grounds that we were anti-Russian and anti-American. Actually, we are both old Moscow hands. We remain neutral and let the facts speak for themselves, Andrusz said.
Duncan said Pages accusation was unjustified. I started learning Russian more than 50 years ago, and have made more than 30 visits to Russia, from 1967 up to my most recent one this summer, he said.
After this second encounter, Andrusz and Duncan both resigned as Pages examiners. In a letter to Soas, they said it would be inappropriate for them to carry on following Pages accusation of bias and his apparent attempts to browbeat them. Andrusz said he was stunned when he discovered Page had joined Trumps team.
Soas refuses to identify the academics who eventually passed Pages PhD thesis, citing data protection rules.
In a statement, Soas said it had proper and robust procedures for the award of PhDs. It added: Alltheses are examined by international experts in their field and are passed only where they meet appropriate high academic standards.
Meanwhile, Andrusz said he was mystified as to why Page tried to pursue an academic career. The FBI, which is currently investigating allegations of collusion between Trumps campaign and Moscow, reportedly bugged Pages communications in 2016. The Bureau suspected Page of being a Russian agent. He denies this.
Carter Page wanted to become a rich man. He hinted at having contacts in high places in Russia who were his informants, Andrusz observed. The professor who taught at Middlesex and Birmingham universities said during his three decades as a lecturer he failed just one PhD student twice: Page.
Page worked for the investment bank Merrill Lynch in Moscow, before returning to New York in 2008 to set up an oil and gas consultancy.
According to the dossier by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, Page held several secret meetings in Russia. One was with Igor Sechin, Putins de facto deputy, and the CEO of the state oil company Rosneft. Another was with a presidential aide, who hinted that the Kremlin held compromising material on Trump.
For more than a year Page denied contact with Russian officials. In November, however, he told the House intelligence committee that he did speak briefly with Russias deputy prime minister Arkady Dvorkovich in Moscow. He knew nothing of Kremlin hacking, he said. Page admitted meeting Andrey Baranov, the head of Rosnefts investor relations, in a bar. He said he didnt encounter Sechin.
In evidence to the committee, Page added that his thesis wasnt published as a book because of a sort of anti-Soviet Union, anti-Russian sentiment from academic publishers.
Asked about claims he accused his examiners of prejudice, Page told the Guardian : I have infinitely more important things to think about today. Youre asking me about ancient, irrelevant history, which I can neither confirm nor deny.
He added: Have good one.