Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky, Ultranationalist Russian Politician, Dies at 75

Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky, an ultra-nationalist arsonist 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 Zhirinovsky had died “after a serious and prolonged illness.” Mr. Zhirinovsky had been admitted to a hospital in Moscow 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 repeatedly ran against President Vladimir V. Putin in presidential elections. But he was a crucial player in Putin’s system of “managed democracy,” which included parties nominally in opposition but in fact loyal to the Kremlin.

Zhirinovsky’s role, analysts said, was to win the votes of Russian nationalists while supporting Putin on key issues.

“He was the first populist of the modern European type,” said Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center, a research organization. “In Putin’s time, he became vital,” Kolesnikov added, because he “channeled the votes of far-right voters.”

In doing so, Mr. Zhirinovsky gave voice to nationalist, chauvinist, and imperialist impulses, frequently advocating the reunification of Russia with what he viewed as historic Russian lands in the Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.

On December 27, he delivered a speech to Parliament that seemed to herald the Russian invasion of Ukraine, predicting that a turning point in the country’s history would come on February 22. (The invasion began on February 24).

“This will not be a peaceful year,” Zhirinovsky said. “This will be the year that Russia finally becomes a great country again, and everyone needs 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 Stalin captured it and an ethnic Russian mother.

Shortly after World War II, his father was deported back to Poland and later emigrated to Israel. Mr. Zhirinovsky took the surname of his mother’s first husband.

After finishing school in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Mr. Zhirinovsky enrolled at the prestigious Moscow State University Faculty of Oriental Languages, 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 a degree of political pluralism, he quickly joined the democratic vortex of an independent and emerging Russia. In 1989, he co-founded the Liberal Democratic Party which, despite its name, became the country’s leading nationalist party and a major political force.

An unabashedly attractive public speaker, Mr. Zhirinovsky quickly rose to prominence, advocating the preservation of the Soviet Union and warning that its collapse would lead to bloodshed.

He ran for president six times, never winning more than 10 percent of the vote, but he set a caustic tone in the country’s politics. And he had the ability to say what top 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 Putin’s electoral victory in 2018, Zhirinovsky correctly predicted that the Kremlin would soon lift the constitutional limit of two consecutive presidential terms. “That’s it. Now he’s there for life,” he said of Putin.

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