MOSCOW ( Associated Press) — Russian nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a senior lawmaker whose sultry rhetoric and antics alarmed the West but appealed to the suffering and wounded pride of Russians, has died at the age of 75. The speaker of the lower house of parliament said on Wednesday.
State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said Zhirinovsky died after “a serious and prolonged illness.” The MLA was admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 on February 2; At the end of March, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Zhirinovsky was “in critical condition.”
As leader of the Liberal Democratic Party for three decades, Zhirinovsky was infamous for making loud statements that were neither liberal nor democratic, and were usually delivered with a brutal glare.
He advocated for Russia to forcefully gain control of Alaska from the United States, suggested that Russia attack former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s residence with a nuclear weapon and said he wanted a DNA test to see if He is related to Donald Trump.
He also claimed that he has received a total of eight COVID-19 shots since August 2020.
While Zhirinovsky played a wild man, many saw him as submissive to the Kremlin. In parliament, his party regularly voted to support measures taken by the more stable United Russia party, which is the cornerstone of President Vladimir Putin’s power.
Zhirinovsky founded the Liberal Democrats in 1991 as the Soviet Union was falling apart, and the group became the country’s first officially recognized opposition party. Later accounts argue that its formation was a KGB project aimed at turning legitimate opposition sentiment into neutral channels.
In its early years, the party had a significant presence in parliament. It won the largest share of votes in the 1993 parliamentary election and held 64 seats in the 450-member Duma. Its prominence declined steadily and after the 2021 election, the party was reduced to 21 seats.
Although the party’s influence fell, Zhirinovsky remained a fiery figure whose comments were received with enthusiasm or disgust, but rarely indifference.
Zhirinovsky was born as Vladimir Wolfovich Edelstein in Almaty, the capital of the then Soviet Kazakhstan, and moved to Moscow at the age of 18 to study Turkish at Moscow State University.
After military service, he served in various positions on state committees and associations. Little attention was paid to his political activities until the founding of the Liberal Democratic Party, eight months before the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Zhirinovsky’s father, who abandoned the family in 1949, was Jewish of Polish descent—an inconvenient legacy given the strong anti-Russian nationalists’ views. Zhirinovsky long denied that he had Jewish ancestry, but eventually acknowledged it in a 2001 book, rejecting the importance of his ethnic background in a particularly harsh assessment.
“Why should I reject Russian blood, Russian culture, Russian land, and fall in love with the Jewish people, only because of a drop of blood that my father left in my mother’s body?” She wrote.