The National Times - Zhirinovsky: Russia's ultra-nationalist who predicted Ukraine conflict

Zhirinovsky: Russia's ultra-nationalist who predicted Ukraine conflict

Zhirinovsky: Russia's ultra-nationalist who predicted Ukraine conflict
Zhirinovsky: Russia's ultra-nationalist who predicted Ukraine conflict

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Russia's veteran firebrand with a flair for political theatre who appeared to predict Russia's military action in Ukraine, died at the age of 75 on Wednesday.

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The politician -- who was reported to have been in grave condition after being hospitalised in early February with Covid -- died after a "serious and prolonged illness", the head of the lower house of parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, said.

Known for his nationalist populism and a skill navigating the Kremlin's political world, Zhirinovsky had reportedly been inoculated eight times with coronavirus vaccines.

Brash, confrontational and prone to eyebrow-raising antics, Zhirinovsky was a fixture on the Russian political scene for the past three decades and thrived on controversy.

He co-founded and led the Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), one of main forces in the country's parliament, since 1990.

Zhirinovsky took part in all of post-Soviet Russia's presidential elections and had been a member of parliament since 1993 when his party scored a major success with nearly 23 percent of the vote.

Often described as a clown in Russian political circles, he was known for his fiery anti-American, anti-liberal and anti-Communist speeches.

- 'Not a peaceful year' -

He appeared to predict Russia's military action in Ukraine when he addressed parliament in late December.

"This won't be a peaceful year," he said in reference to 2022, urging Russian forces to strike Ukraine.

"This will be a year when Russia will finally become a great country again and everyone will have to shut up."

He even mentioned February 22 -- the day President Vladimir Putin recognised Ukraine's two breakaway regions as independent before he ordered troops into the pro-Western country two days later.

Since Moscow's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its subsequent stand-off with the West, Zhirinovsky had shifted into making anti-Kyiv public speeches.

After the annexation, Zhirinovsky arrived in parliament wearing a military uniform and launched into an anti-Ukrainian tirade from the podium.

Zhirinovsky's wrath was also often directed against the United States.

"At night our scientists will slightly change the gravitational field of the Earth, and your country will be under water!" he said in a 2002 video, where he appeared to be visibly drunk.

Zhirinovsky was also known for making anti-Jewish statements, despite acknowledging his father's Jewish heritage.

Bad-boy reputation aside, Zhirinovsky was considered a skillful political operator and carefully toed the Kremlin line.

"Only the Russian leader decides what will happen to the world in the next 10 to 15 years," he said in April 2021.

He will be remembered for his frequent nationalist outbursts and often outrageous behaviour, such as throwing a glass of juice at liberal opponent Boris Nemtsov during a televised debate and fighting in parliament's lower house, the Duma.

Supporters described him as a charismatic orator, who was popular with Russians nostalgic for the USSR as well as those disappointed with the Communists, democrats and Putin. Critics found his provocative nationalism shocking.

Russia's liberal opposition despised him for being the Kremlin's token opponent who helped channel discontent.

- 'Give each woman a man' -

Members of Zhirinovsky's party were behind some of the country's most attention-grabbing legislative initiatives. One LDPR lawmaker proposed stripping Russian women of citizenship for marrying foreigners. Another proposed banning the US dollar and allowing women to take two days of paid leave a month when they menstruate.

Zhirinovsky himself last year suggested pushing back the age of childhood to 30 because Russians "don't understand a thing until they're 30, they are all children."

In 2007, Andrei Lugovoi, who is wanted in Britain in the murder of former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko, was elected to Russia's parliament as a representative of Zhirinovsky's party and still sits in the Duma.

Born in 1946 in Soviet-era Kazakhstan, Zhirinovsky entered politics after studying Turkish, philosophy and law.

Putin was only an adviser to the mayor of Saint Petersburg when Russians first heard Zhirinovsky's outbursts during the post-Soviet country's first free presidential election in 1991.

The politician promised to lower the prices of vodka and "give each woman a man". He placed third with six million votes.

The LDPR has advocated for the return of Moscow's many lost territories, including Alaska, which Russia sold to the United States in 1867.

Zhirinovsky famously said he hoped that one day Russian soldiers could "wash their boots in the waters of the Indian Ocean."

Though marginalised in recent years, Zhirinovsky continued to deliver nationalist rants in parliament and regularly appeared on Russian television talk shows.