Karen Dawisha, a scholar of modern Russia whose final book, “Putin’s Kleptocracy,” detailing the predations of the circle of oligarchs surrounding Russian president Vladimir Putin, was considered so incendiary that her longtime British publisher declined to release it, died April 11 at a hospice center in Oxford, Ohio. She was 68.
The cause was lung cancer, said her husband, Adeed Dawisha.
Dr. Dawisha, who directed a center for Russian studies at Miami University in Ohio, had published several books on Soviet and Russian history since the 1970s and had previously been a professor at the University of Maryland.
In 2013, Dr. Dawisha turned in her manuscript about Putin, his inner circle of onetime intelligence officers and how they acquired their wealth. After reviewing it for months, her longtime publisher, Cambridge University Press, balked at releasing the book, citing fears of potential lawsuits for defamation.
An executive with the publishing firm cited Britain’s libel laws — which make it relatively easy to file lawsuits against publishers and authors — as the reason the venerable university press was rejecting her manuscript.
“Given the controversial subject matter of the book,” the publishing executive, John Haslam, wrote in 2014, “and its basic premise that Putin’s power is founded on his links to organised crime, we are not convinced that there is a way to rewrite the book that would give us the necessary comfort.”
Dr. Dawisha forwarded the letter to the Economist magazine, along with a sharply worded response: “Isn’t it a pity that the UK is a ‘no-fly’ zone for publishing the truth about this group? These Kremlin-connected oligarchs feel free to buy Belgravia, kill dissidents in Piccadilly with Polonium 210, fight each other in the High Court, and hide their children in British boarding schools.”
She expressed concern that the British academic publisher would “cower and engage in pre-emptive book-burnings as a result of fear of legal action.”
She then took her book to the U.S. publisher Simon & Schuster, which released “Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?” in 2014.
The book examined Putin’s rise through the Soviet-era spy service, his close links to other intelligence officers and their plans to enrich themselves at the expense of the Russian people. An Economist reviewer called Dr. Dawisha’s book “a guide to the crony capitalism that grew out of the nexus of Mr Putin’s plutocratic interests, his shady past and authoritarian rule.”
Dr. Dawisha wrote that 35 percent of the financial assets of modern Russia were controlled by 110 oligarchs closely tied to Putin. She estimated Putin’s personal wealth at $40 billion and detailed some of his gaudier possessions, including yachts, mansions and a wristwatch collection valued at more than $700,000.
“More than half of the $50 billion spent on the  Sochi Olympics,” Dr. Dawisha wrote, “simply disappeared into the pockets of Putin’s cronies.”
Russia, she added, “has become the country where the super-rich receive the greatest protection from the state. None of this would be possible without the personal involvement of Putin.”
In a review of “Putin’s Kleptocracy” in the New York Times, political scientist Rajan Menon called the book “the most persuasive account we have of corruption in contemporary Russia.”
Dr. Dawisha’s book has yet to be published in any country other than the United States.
Karen Lea Hurst was born Dec. 2, 1949, in Colorado Springs. Her mother was a teacher, her father a jazz pianist.
She developed an interest in Russia while studying the language in high school. As a student at the University of Colorado, she spent her junior year abroad at England’s Lancaster University, then stayed on to complete her bachelor’s degree there in 1971. She received a doctorate in international studies from the London School of Economics in 1975.
Dr. Dawisha taught at Britain’s University of Southampton from 1973 to 1985 and published her first book, “Soviet Foreign Policy Towards Egypt,” in 1979. Before “Putin’s Kleptocracy,” she had written or edited several other books on Russia and the Soviet Union published by the Cambridge University Press.
She held appointments at the Brookings Institution and Princeton University before joining the University of Maryland faculty in 1985. She became the founding director of the Havighurst Center for Russian and Post-Soviet Studies at Miami University in 2000.
Besides her husband of 46 years, a Miami University political scientist who lives in Oxford, Ohio, survivors include two children, Nadia Dawisha of Oxford and Emile Dawisha of Washington; a sister; two brothers; and a grandson.
Dr. Dawisha noted that when Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea in 2014, the United States and the European Union issued sanctions against oligarchs she had identified as among Putin’s closest advisers. The short Russian flirtation with democratic norms in the 1990s, she said, had long since disappeared.
“The group did not get lost on the path to democracy,” she wrote in “Putin’s Kleptocracy.” “They never took that path.”