Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky, an incendiary ultranationalist politician who was a pillar of the Kremlin political system, died on Wednesday. He was 75 years old.
The speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, told lawmakers that Mr Zhirinovsky had died “after a serious and prolonged illness”. Mr Zhirinovsky had been admitted to a Moscow hospital with Covid-19 in February, the Russian health ministry said.
As the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, Russia’s main nationalist party, Mr. Zhirinovsky has repeatedly run against President Vladimir V. Putin in presidential elections. But he was a crucial player in Mr Putin’s system of “managed democracy”, which included parties that were nominally in opposition but were in fact loyal to the Kremlin.
Analysts said Mr Zhirinovsky’s role was to garner votes from Russian nationalists while backing Mr Putin on key issues.
“He was the first modern European-type populist,” said Andrei Kolesnikov, senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center, a research organization. “In Putin’s time, he became vital,” added Mr. Kolesnikov, because “he channeled the votes of far-right voters.”
In doing so, Mr Zhirinovsky gave voice to nationalist, chauvinist and imperialist impulses – and frequently advocated the reunification of Russia with what he saw as historic Russian lands in Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
On December 27, he gave a speech in parliament that seemed to foreshadow Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, predicting that a turning point in the country’s history would occur on February 22. (The invasion began on February 24.)
“It will not be a peaceful year,” Mr. Zhirinovsky said. “This will be the year when Russia finally becomes a great country again, and everyone will have to shut up and respect our country.”
Vladimir Volfovich Zhirinovsky was born on April 25, 1946 in Soviet Kazakhstan to a Jewish father who was deported from western Ukraine after his capture by Stalin and a mother of Russian origin.
Shortly after World War II, his father was again deported to Poland, and then emigrated to Israel. Mr. Zhirinovsky took the surname of his mother’s first husband.
After completing his studies in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Mr. Zhirinovsky enrolled in the prestigious Faculty of Oriental Languages at Moscow State University, where he studied Turkish and literature. He also studied international relations and law at the Institute of Marxism-Leninism.
He began his career as a lawyer, but as soon as the Soviet system allowed for political pluralism, he quickly joined the democratic whirlwind of emerging, independent Russia. In 1989, he co-founded the Liberal Democratic Party which, despite its name, became the main nationalist party in the country and an important political force.
A brash and engaging speaker, Mr Zhirinovsky quickly rose to prominence, arguing for the preservation of the Soviet Union and warning that its collapse would bring bloodshed.
He ran for president six times, never winning more than 10% of the vote, but setting a vitriolic tone in the country’s politics. And he had a knack for saying what senior Russian officials seemed to believe but were afraid to say publicly; in 2016, he exclaimed “God save the Tsar!” after receiving a State Order of Merit from Mr. Putin.
After Mr. Putin’s election victory in 2018, Mr. Zhirinovsky predicted – correctly – that the Kremlin would soon lift the constitutional limit of two consecutive presidential terms. “That’s it. He’s here for life now,” he said of Mr Putin.