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Russia Sanctions Larry Summers, Four Other Harvard Affiliates

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The Russian government barred former Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers and four other Harvard affiliates from entering the country, according to a Thursday press release from Russia’s foreign ministry.

The sanctions were also lodged against Alexandra M. Vacroux, the executive director of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies; J. Calder Walton, assistant director of the Intelligence Project at the Harvard Kennedy School; Karen E. Donfried, a senior fellow at the Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs; and Harvard Business School professor Rawi E. Abdelal, the former director of the Davis Center.

The five Harvard affiliates were named among 227 American citizens who were sanctioned by Russia on Thursday. The foreign ministry alleged the individuals had contributed to rising “Russophobia” in the U.S. government or had taken “anti-Russian actions” and said the sanctions came in response to “ever-expanding” sanctions by the U.S. against Russia.

The addition of new names to the list of American citizens banned from entering the country came one day before the start of Russia’s heavily orchestrated 2024 presidential election. Vladimir Putin claimed he won a fifth term as president on Sunday, with the country’s Central Election Commission reporting that he received 87 percent of the vote.

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Russia has sanctioned Harvard affiliates in the past. Harvard Corporation Senior Fellow Penny S. Pritzker ’81, Corporation Fellow Mariano-Florentino “Tino” Cuellar ’93, and six other Harvard affiliates were blacklisted from entering Russia in May 2023.

Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton declined to comment for this article.

In total, the Russian government has blocked more than 2,000 U.S. citizens from entering its borders — a list that includes elected officials, intelligence officers, think tank leaders, and academics.

Summers, who served as U.S. Secretary of the Treasury under Bill Clinton, said in an interview with The Crimson that he was “honored to be counted as an adversary of President Putin.”

“I have been a strong advocate for the seizure of Russia’s currently frozen economic assets for the benefit of reconstruction of Ukraine,” Summers said, adding that he hoped it would happen “rapidly” and be “painful” for the Russian government.

The newest sanctions largely target academics who have been publicly critical of the Russian government or supportive of Ukraine’s war effort — though the list also includes government officials, two FBI special agents, and defense industry leaders.

On Feb. 25, 2022, the day after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Vacroux and Abdelal co-signed a statement on the Davis Center website that condemned the invasion and declared that the Center “stands with the people of Ukraine.”

Abdelal declined to comment, and Vacroux did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Sunday.

Like Summers, Donfried and Walton said they were more flattered than shocked by the sanctions.

Donfried wrote in an email that she was “not surprised” to find her name on the list. Per the statement, she was sanctioned in connection with her former role as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, from which she stepped down in March 2023.

“Like many, I view inclusion on the Russian MFA’s sanctions list as a badge of honor and an affirmation of the work I am doing at the Belfer Center,” Donfried wrote.

Both Walton and Donfried said they thought it was unlikely that the sanctions would affect their academic work. Neither planned to travel to Russia.

Walton said it was the second time Russia has sanctioned him. As a dual American and British citizen, he was previously blocked from entering Russia on his U.K. passport on Feb. 12.

Like Donfried, Walton described the sanctions as a “badge of honor.”

The names, Walton noted, appear to have been selected haphazardly — constituting what he called “a very bizarre list.”

The new sanctions, he said, seem imbalanced, focusing on names from the “soft arena of academia” while omitting public figures, including HKS faculty, “whose job was unambiguously on the part of the U.S. government to damage Russian national security.”

At least one person on the list, Hoover Institution senior fellow John B. Dunlop, is dead, Walton pointed out.

“It seems to me to be mostly about theatrics,” Walton said. “Western governments have, of course, expelled sanctioned Russian officials, so Russia will, of course, feel duty-bound to do the same.”

—Staff writer Tilly R. Robinson can be reached at tilly.robinson@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @tillyrobin.

—Staff writer Neil H. Shah can be reached at neil.shah@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @neilhshah15.

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