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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

University Refuses to Oust Nevzlin

The controversy surrounding Yukos played itself out in a new forum Friday, as Leonid Nevzlin hung on to his job as rector of the Russian State Humanitarian University -- for now.

Despite a clear message delivered by Education Minister Vladimir Filippov that Nevzlin was no longer welcome at the state university, its academic council refused to vote on his removal Friday and put off the matter for a week.

Yukos is a deep-pocketed benefactor for the university, and Nevzlin is the company's top shareholder after Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Many -- including Nevzlin himself -- expected he would be removed from his post at Friday's meeting. He had predicted in a Kommersant interview published Friday morning that the council meeting would be "a moment of truth."

Nevzlin, who is believed to be in Israel, told the newspaper that he had received a phone call Thursday asking him to leave on his own initiative, but "I categorically refused." He did not say who the call was from.

Filippov, whose ministry oversees the state university, known as RGGU, attended the meeting to help the academics "make the right decision," Izvestia reported Saturday. The minister told them that if they did not remove Nevzlin, he was prepared to do so himself, the newspaper said, citing an unidentified participant in the meeting.

Most of the council members resisted having a decision forced upon them from above, while some argued for "accepting the rules of the game," Izvestia reported. In the end, agreement was reached that such a decision should not be made without giving it proper consideration.

Filippov, however, told reporters after the meeting that "the question of re-electing or not re-electing the rector" did not come up, Interfax reported. This was partly because the council had not prepared for the required secret ballot vote, he said.

This spring, Yukos announced it would pour some $100 million into the university's work over the next 10 years.

RGGU has so far received $5 million, said the university's founder, Yury Afanasyev, whom Nevzlin replaced as rector on June 26, about a week before the arrest of Platon Lebedev, another core Yukos shareholder, threw the case against Yukos into motion.

Nevzlin held out hope in the Kommersant interview that Afanasyev, as the university's honorary president, would come to his defense at the meeting later that day. Hailing his predecessor as a democrat of the first wave, he said, "It's up to him alone to decide."

Afanasyev, however, told Interfax on Friday that the university needs a rector who is physically present. "What if there is an emergency, like a fire, for example, and the rector is not around? Who would we turn to? Responsibility would fall to the [Education] Ministry."

Early this fall, Nevzlin took a leave of absence from the university to work on his dissertation on the history and philosophy behind civil society in the 1700s and 1800s, saying he would return Dec. 20. Nevzlin claims that the university has not suffered in his absence, saying he is in touch with his staff twice a day.

Nevzlin's press secretary in Moscow, Vladimir Pikov, said he could not comment on the academic council decision when reached by phone Friday evening, because the only information he had was from news agencies.

Telephones in Afanasyev's office were off the hook Friday night.

Before Nevzlin's fate is discussed at the council's next meeting on Thursday, Filippov said he and Afanasyev would meet with Yukos representatives to address the company's financial commitment to the university. A Yukos spokesman emphasized to Interfax that Yukos' support for RGGU had been approved by the company's board and was in no way contingent on who is rector.