Vladimir Zhirinovsky is no stranger to controversy. The founder of the Liberal Democratic Party in Russia, he has been involved in politics and public life for most of his career. A fervent Soviet Union idealist, whose magnus opus, “The Last Break Southward” set out in no uncertain terms that he felt the only solution for the Russian nation was for Russia’s reach to extend to the shores of the Indian Ocean and the Bosphorus, Zhirinovsky is known for his view on how traitors of Russia should be dealt with. He has run for several presidential elections, infamously promising voters that if he were elected, free vodka would be distributed to all and that his presidency would in effect sum to a police state. Now 74, OCA magazine caught up with Zhirinovsky to see whether the pandemic had changed any of his views.
OCA Magazine: You were born in Almaty in what is now independent Kazakhstan. Do you feel any affinity to your birthplace?
Vladimir Zhirinovsky: Of course, this is my homeland. Unfortunately, now I can’t even go there on a private visit, because the Kazakh authorities do not allow me to do so. This attitude towards Russians was the reason I left Kazakhstan at the age of 16. I understood then that the priority in employment, culture, and in everyday life is for Kazakhs only. Russians are now treated as second class citizens.
OCA: Please tell us a bit about your background and how you became involved in politics?
VZ: Since childhood, I stood up for my opinion, defended my rights, and argued with teachers. All my life up to the age of 43 was trying to participate in one way or another in public life. But it was only possible in 1990 finally to switch to party work.
Back at school, I actually wrote a letter to Brezhnev with a proposal on how to improve the economy through agriculture. In the USSR, they sold potatoes of terrible quality for a very cheap price. I suggested, well, let’s raise prices by 30% – people won’t notice it – and the quality of the product will increase. Or bread, it was also sold for a penny and used to feed livestock. The quality was poor. But I was just reprimanded for this anti-Soviet fabrication.
OCA: In 1991 you founded the Liberal Democratic Party, which became the first officially sanctioned opposition party in the Soviet Union. What was behind the founding of this party and what were its aims?
VZ: Parties are the central element in public policy; they form the managerial skills, they develop ideas and programs, they represent the voice of the people. So, I always wanted to be a party member. I tried several times to join the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, but they didn’t accept me, because I was not ready to just keep silent and always vote “for”.
In 1977, I participated in an attempt to create an underground party but failed. The police arrested several participants in a safe house, and I only narrowly escaped. In 1988, out of curiosity, I attended the congress of Valeria Novodvorskaya’s Democratic Party. I was invited to speak and was even elected to the leadership. But I turned this offer down because I already understood then that these people were radicals. They wanted to fight not for power, but against the country, to destroy the Soviet Union.
I met many future like-minded people there who, a year later, persuaded me to lead a new party – the future LDPR. Our first meetings were held in December 1989, and then at the founding congress in March 1990. In May 1991, the LDPR nominated me as a candidate for the presidency of Russia, and the Supreme Council of the RSFSR supported me. As a result, I – a simple lawyer who had nothing to do with the country’s leadership – took 3rd place. 6.2 million people voted for me. It was a sensation. Two and a half years later, the LDPR won its first seats in the State Duma.
OCA: You came under criticism from Western commentators at the time as being a living embodiment of authoritarianism and militarism in modern Russia. Why do you think your politics led to this portrayal and how close to the truth is it? Do you ultimately believe in democracy or another form of government?
VZ: After our victory in the State Duma elections, Deputy Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, in a conversation with US Vice President Al Gore, called us fascists, because we were against the dissolution of the USSR. Although in reality everything was the opposite. LDPR at that time was the main moderate, centrist party. We avoided any extremism. On the one hand, we accepted the transition to a multi-party democracy and admitted the need for economic reforms, but we proposed to do this gradually: 1% per year and only in the service sector, not in the heavy or extractive industries.
Even today I have a strong allergy to any encroachment on the territory of the country. Why on earth did we fall back to the borders of the times of Ivan the Terrible in 1991? Hundreds of thousands of Russians died for these lands. We haven’t conquered a single kilometre! All national outskirts either themselves asked for the protectorate of Russia, like Georgia or the modern Central Asian republics, which were threatened by southern neighbours, or became part of Russia under international agreements.
OCA: If you were to run for president again, on what basis would you run and how would you change things in modern Russia today? How would you look to strengthen the relationships with former Soviet Union countries?
VZ: One of the main transformations that I would carry out would be to cancel the division of Russia into regions along ethnic lines. In Russia, which is itself a republic, there are other republics that are indicated in the Constitution as independent states. How is this even possible? This is the legacy of the vicious Soviet system. The Bolsheviks needed to divide unitary Russia into national parts in order to prove to the world that it was not one country that adopted Communism, but many different ones united in a union. This laid a terrible mine under our statehood, and this mine exploded in 1991, when the USSR cracked under the artificial borders. 14 new states were formed! Not one of them ever existed within such boundaries.
Regarding the policy towards neighbours, it is necessary to initiate a referendum in all post-Soviet countries: are you ready to return to Russia with the rights of national autonomy? I assure you that the majority would support this proposal, and we would all live richer and better lives, because most of the industries in the CIS countries are focused only on each other.
OCA: The poisoning and subsequent arrest of Alexei Navalny has been well-publicized in the media recently. He too leads an opposition party in Russia. Given your experience of being in opposition, how do you assess the current situation relating to Navalny? Can a true opposition party exist in modern Russia and if so, how should it conduct its politics?
VZ: Navalny is an enemy of Russia. His slogans are beautiful: freedom, democracy, the fight against corruption, etc. But what is behind them? An open fight against Russia itself is in the interests of Western governments. It’s no secret that Navalny is initiating US and EU sanctions against Russia – he openly calls on the European Parliament and Congress to implement them. Imagine if a British politician demanded sanctions against Britain. How would citizens react to that? Almost everything that Navalny participates in is somehow connected with the governments of other countries.
He felt ill on the plane, Russian doctors saved him, the government, at the request of his wife, gave permission for an emergency trip to Germany for treatment, where he was fully supported by the state as a “guest of the chancellor.” Then he recovers and immediately accuses Russia of being poisoned with combat poison! There is a lethal dosage – thousandths of a millilitre. If he was poisoned on an airplane with such a substance, all the passengers would be killed. And Navalny supposedly survived. At the same time, Germany refuses to provide at least some evidence of poisoning.
OCA: How do you see the outcome of the US presidential election, removing Trump from office, as influencing US-Russia relationships in the near term?
VZ: This is some kind of legal absurdity. American-style legislation. Democrats are trying to dismiss a man who has long been retired. The Bolsheviks did about the same in our country at the beginning of the 20th century; they executed the tsar and persecuted everyone who doubted the new policy. Nevertheless, I do not think that under Biden, relations with Russia will somehow deteriorate. The Democrats have already achieved their goal, removing an unwanted president from power, gained a majority in the House of Representatives, and increased their fraction in the Senate. They no longer need the image of an external enemy. Now they are more likely to engage in internal politics, they will finish off internal political enemies. As for the outside, the conservation of America will continue, the withdrawal of troops from other countries, and a decrease in influence.
OCA: The current pandemic has led to numerous challenges for countries across the world? There has been scepticism surrounding the Russian COVID-19 vaccine (Sputnik V). What do you think is behind this and how do you think the vaccine will help bring Russia (and the world) out of the pandemic?
VZ: Our Sputnik V vaccine is by far the best in the world. All research reports were published in the respected international medical publication, The Lancet. The Russian vaccine has a low cost, high efficiency – 91%; it is easy to transport. In Russia, several million people have already got vaccinated, including me and most of the Liberal Democratic Party deputies.
For comparison, the American Pfizer should be stored at -70 degrees! It is much more expensive, and several dozen people died during the tests in different countries. The British “Astrazeneca” was ineffective – it gives only 70% protection and does not prevent infection with new strains, for example, South African. So, of course, we are saving ourselves from the pandemic. Restrictions are gradually being lifted in Russia – This gives us a good advantage in catching up on the losses of 2020.