While his heyday came and went in the first half of the 1990s, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the “ultranationalist” leader of the inappropriately named Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), continues to hold forth on a wide variety of subjects–even if fewer and fewer people are listening. Just this week, Zhirinovsky said that Russia should sell Japan the four disputed Kuril Islands for $250 billion each, meaning $1 trillion for all four. He added, however, that such a suggestion should be viewed simply as a means of “political-economic pressure,” given that the price was excessive, even for Japan. The next day, the LDPR leader urged the Russian government to actively influence the outcome of the presidential campaign in Ukraine, using above all economic levers such as the electricity Russia supplies its neighbor with. Insisting that the United States and NATO had spent hundreds of millions of dollars to get Vojislav Kostunica elected as Yugoslavia’s president, Zhirinovsky said Russia should do the same vis-à-vis its “closest fraternal country.”
The reference to NATO was interesting, given that late last year Zhirinovsky, who had spent most of his career inveighing against the West, suddenly urged Russia to join the Western alliance. His about-face followed Putin’s re-orientation westward by just a few weeks, reinforcing the feeling in many quarters that when it rains in the Kremlin, the erstwhile ultranationalist bogeyman carries an umbrella.
Still, Zhirinovsky does not follow the Kremlin’s lead in everything. Indeed, while Putin has repeatedly voiced his opposition to lifting the moratorium on the death penalty that is currently in effect, Zhirinovsky said last month that crime would drop precipitously “if we shoot 5,000-6,000 people a month.” The $25 million a year that Russia spends on incarcerating criminals, he added, would be better used for taking care of homeless children.
Despite such disagreements with the Kremlin and his lagging political fortunes in recent years, Zhirinovsky’s career as a party leader and parliamentarian apparently remains surprisingly lucrative. The Autoban.ru website reported earlier this month that the LDPR leader owns all of his party’s property, including 150 apartments around the country and 317 automobiles–fifty-seven of the latter in Moscow alone. The cars include every possible variety of Russian make and a wide variety of foreign cars–including, Zhirinovsky told the website, “many” Mercedes. One of his automobiles is fitted out with a $17,000 navigation system, the website reported.