Professor Dawisha, furious, took the manuscript to the American publisher Simon & Schuster, which published it, but she noted in a letter to Cambridge University Press that the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom had already translated her thesis into policy, having announced sanctions against the precise individuals who formed the basis of her book.
She said in the letter, which was later published by the Economist, that Mr. Putin’s friends had succeeded in building channels of influence in British institutions, prompting Cambridge University Press to “cower and engage in pre-emptive book-burnings as a result of fear of legal actions.”
“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 wrote.
Few academics have focused their work on high-level corruption in Russia, in part because publishing on the topic could result in a travel ban by that country. Western policymakers until recently held out hope that Mr. Putin would prove an ally in conflicts in Syria and Iran.
But beginning in 2014, Western governments began to openly embrace her central thesis: that a network of corrupt oligarchs centering on Mr. Putin formed the basic structure of his political system.
“What wasn’t understood was that it went back to this St. Petersburg inner circle,” said Charles G. Davidson, the executive director of the Kleptocracy Initiative at the Hudson Institute in Washington. “The contention in Karen’s book that was so controversial at first — much less so now — is that there was a plan all along by Putin to take over the place.”
Officials in Congress and the State Department consulted with Professor Dawisha after the book was published, Mr. Davidson said, and the president of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaitė, distributed copies of it to members of the European Parliament.
Professor Dawisha had spent much of her career on more conventional subjects, like Russia’s electoral system, but relished the chance to roll up her sleeves and do primary research, said her husband, a retired distinguished professor of political science at Miami University. Unlike most investigative journalists, he said, she had the advantage of extended time to do the spadework and access to sources who were reluctant to speak to reporters.
Karen Dawisha knew that the project would be controversial, he said, but felt that her professional status allowed her to take the risk.
“It was not as though she worried she wouldn’t get tenure,” her husband said. “It was sort of like, ‘At the end, let me do something I’m really interested in, and not be burdened by the rules of my profession.’ ”
Karen Hurst was born on Dec. 2, 1949, in Colorado Springs to the former Paula Keene, a schoolteacher, and Harry Hurst, a jazz pianist. She became interested in Russia after taking a Russian-language course in high school.
She went on to study Russian politics at the University of Colorado at Boulder and spent her junior year at the University of Lancaster in England, where she met Adeed Dawisha, an Iraqi political scientist who had grown up in Baghdad. She received her doctoral degree at the London School of Economics and won a full professorship at the University of Maryland at College Park before joining Miami University in 2000.
She and her husband both retired in September 2016.
Professor Dawisha was the author or co-author of six books before “Putin’s Kleptocracy,” including “Eastern Europe, Gorbachev, and Reform: The Great Challenge” (1988) and “Soviet Foreign Policy Towards Egypt” (1979).
In addition to her husband, she is survived by her daughter, Nadia Dawisha; her son, Emile; and a grandson.
Even after she learned she had cancer, Professor Dawisha remained intensely engaged in discussions about Russia, and received invitations to speak at conferences even in the final months of her life, her husband said.
“It made her happy, but also disappointed,” Adeed Dawisha said. “She would write a very nice reply, and say, ‘I would love to come, if I get stronger and can fly, but at the moment I am not able.’ They would write back and say, ‘We don’t take your response as a decline, we will just keep it open.’ ”