Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an ultra-nationalist Russian politician who for decades emulated political opposition to Vladimir Putin while playing court jester in Russia’s parliament, has died aged 75.
The cause appears to be complications from Covid, a disease Zhirinovsky claims to have been vaccinated against eight times.
Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the State Duma, said Zhirinovsky died after a “difficult and long illness”. His death had already been reported and then denied twice this year.
A six-time presidential candidate and deputy to Russia’s parliament since 1993, Zhirinovsky was famous for his grotesque antics and fiery speeches from the rostrum in which he seemed to reveal Russia’s darkest ambitions aloud.
He openly advocated dictatorship and suggested that Putin rule the country until death. “I have clean hands,” he once said of his own ambitions. “But they will be covered in blood if I become president.”
Odd and irreverent, Zhirinovsky has been derided by many as a clown and a chief member of Russia’s “pocket opposition” whom the Kremlin has managed for decades to maintain a veneer of democracy.
But sometimes Zhirinovsky’s dark prophecies have proven terrifyingly close to the truth, such as when he nearly predicted the date and time of the Russian invasion of Ukraine months before it was to take place.
“At 4 a.m. on February 22, you will feel [our new policy]he said in one of his last appearances before MPs last December. “I would like 2022 to be peaceful. But I love the truth, for 70 years I’ve been telling the truth. It won’t be peaceful. This will be a year when Russia becomes great again.
On February 22, Russia recognized the independence of two territories it controlled in southeastern Ukraine. Two days later, the Kremlin launched its invasion of Ukraine, opening a new chapter in Russian history.
Zhirinovsky will hardly be needed in this chapter, as the token ultranationalist has been overtaken by dozens of Russian officials openly calling for war with the west and a return to the autarkic policies of the Soviet Union.
But he was an outspoken voice of ethnic nationalism in the 1990s when, as the country’s presidential candidate, he said he “dreamed of Russian soldiers washing their feet in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean “.
Zhirinovsky, who was born in the capital of Soviet Kazakhstan in 1946, emerged on the post-Soviet political scene in 1991 with a surprise third place in the presidential elections. His party, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, won 23% of the vote in the parliamentary elections two years later.
“He was, as we now understand, the first Trumpist-type populist, a trailblazer. But in the 1990s it seemed like a classic far-right, close to semi-fascist views,” said Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Moscow Center. “And under the circumstances of the political clashes at the time, that was the case.”
Over a period of three decades, Zhirinovsky created a personal cult around him, surrounding himself with a group of young LDPR men and earning a reputation as an outspoken brawler that led to descriptions of him as “the trump card of Russia.
He gained international notoriety for throwing a glass of orange juice at opposition politician Boris Nemtsov during a television appearance in 1995 and personally instigating and participating in fights in the Duma. He also regularly made anti-Semitic and sexist remarks, such as when he suggested during a press conference that his collaborators should rape a pregnant journalist.
But Zhirinovsky, who fell under Putin’s sway early in his term, played an important role in attracting right-wing voters who might be tempted by genuine opposition if they didn’t have a candidate to speak to them. Gennady Zyuganov, the longtime leader of the Communist Party, has played a similar role on the left.
“During the Putin years, he performed, together with Zyuganov, the most important function: if Zyuganov “sterilized” and preserved the votes of left-wing voters in the legal field, Zhirinovsky did the same with the votes of the extreme right “, said Kolesnikov. .
This was Zhirinovsky’s main legacy for the Kremlin, which considered him a reliable spoiler in all elections in the country.
“His identity is so broad that it is difficult to imagine the history of modern Russia’s political system without him,” said Volodin, chairman of the State Duma and an ally of Putin. “The best assessment of his actions is the unwavering support of voters.”