Publication: Prism Volume: 1 Issue: 23

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Russia’s Scarecrow

by Aleksandr Zhilin

Ever since the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) wona surprising victory in the 1993 parliamentary election, the Russianpress has circulated the rumor that both the party and its odiousleader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, are creations of the security services.These hints always beg the question: If the LDPR was really createdby the security services, then to what end? On October 5-7, I interviewed former KGB staff official Lieutenant Colonel MikhailValentinov who shared several observations on this point.

According to Valentinov, even in Gorbachev’s time, the KGB wasdeveloping plans to create odious political figures. Their aimwas to implant a convincing and persistent illusion in the public’smind that no alternative to the country’s chief political leaderexisted. They also wanted to maintain a constant reminder ofthe dangers inherent in extremist forces taking power. "Itis important to note," Valentinov remarked, "that thistrick was designed to work not only within the USSR, but alsoto influence the West, to give Gorbachev room for political negotiating.To say, for example: ‘If you don’t support me, the USSR once againwill become a dangerous enemy.’ During Gorbachev’s time,"Valentinov continued, "the project was not completed."

"The KGB, incidentally, was in no hurry to complete theproject because Gorbachev did not suffer from a lack of pro-Communistopponents. For example, the primitive-minded Yegor Ligachev, whopersonified the interests of the Communist nomenklatura,served as a perfect contrast to Gorbachev. As far as Boris Yeltsinwas concerned, both Gorbachev and the KGB had obviously underestimatedhim as a potential rival. At the time, both in the Kremlin andin the Lubyanka, they mistakenly thought that Yeltsin’s imageas a drunkard was quite enough to turn the voters away from him."

After the USSR collapsed and Boris Yeltsin came to power, Valentinovrecounted, the interest in the project abated somewhat. Followingthe abortive August 1991 coup, the illusion of a decisive victoryfor democracy emerged. This guaranteed some security for thenew government: Yeltsin was popular and did not fear any rivals.However, as soon as it became clear, by early 1992, that Russiawas already being threatened by the quiet revenge of the Communistnomenklatura, Yeltsin’s popularity began to drop. It wasbecoming increasingly obvious that Russia’s leader would not beable to accomplish his democratic reforms, and that, in any event, his basic motivation was not to reform the country but to preservehis own power. At this point, the idea of creating a politicalscarecrow gained new impetus.

The old challengers, Valentinov went on, such as Politburo membersYegor Ligachev, Nikolai Ryzhkov and other representatives of theformer Communist elite, could not fill this role. At that time,few believed that the CPSU could be revived and communist ideologywas extremely unpopular in Russia. In addition, the project hadone very important, if not essential, point: The odious pseudo-rivalartificially created by the security services had to be manageableand had to be held firmly "on tether." Otherwise, theundertaking would be a failure, because the pseudo-rival, "unleashed"by the security services, could at any moment get out of controland become a real rival.

Valentinov told me that the selection of candidates for thisrole was conducted very thoroughly and took a long time. Hundredsof people were "examined," and the "pros"and "cons" of each carefully weighed.

The former KGB official, however, flatly refused either to tellme why Zhirinovsky, in particular, had been chosen, or how theKGB had managed to put him "on tether," citing the oathhe had signed not to divulge classified information. Nevertheless,he told me the following:

Only a few people in the security services have access to theinformation on the LDPR’s finances, a fact which distinguishesit from all other political parties. In Russia, there is no government entity which is obligated to provide thepublic with data on the finances of political parties. But, accordingto Valentinov and other reliable sources in the FSB (Federal SecurityService) and the GRU, (the Main Intelligence Directorate of theRussian General Staff), there are special departments in the securityservices where this information is collected. Access to this informationis restricted, but it is used by the security services to publiclydiscredit parties with "leaks," or to pressure partiesby blackmailing them with compromising materials.

But information on Zhirinovsky’s financial affairs is known onlyto a narrow circle of secret service officers, is strictly classified,and leaks on this subject are virtually impossible, accordingto Valentinov. Moreover, it is impossible to find any informationon the LDPR’s bank accounts, because they are hidden in the samemanner as the accounts used by the security services to financetheir networks of agents: that is, they use bogus companies andfictitious legal entities or persons. Payments are often madein cash so that they are impossible to trace.

Valentinov noted that the sources of the LDPR’s financing areso well hidden that not even the tax police and other fiscalstructures have access to the information. He points out thatonly the security services could so effectively bury all dataon the LDPR’s financial sources.

And the sums of money circulating around the LDPR are impressive.The LDPR is the only political organization not directly involvedin the redistribution of state property, the sale of state resources,or the state budget, which has access to enormous sums of money.

Moreover, despite all their outward extremism, neither Zhirinovskynor the LDPR as a whole have ever opposed Yeltsin on the mostimportant issues. On the contrary, the LDPR faction, which isthe largest in the State Duma, has always supported the president."Would a true opposition behave in this way?" Valentinovasked and flashed a devious smile. After a short pause, he added:"However, the naive West trembles at the very thought ofZhirinovsky coming to power and continually repeats the clichethat there is no alternative to Yeltsin in Russia."

According to Valentinov, the LDPR’s victory in the 1993 parliamentaryelections did not come as a surprise to the Russian president. He claims that forces within the Kremlin, assisted by the securityservices, helped Zhirinovsky to win. As evidence, he points outthat during the pre-election campaign, the odious leader had unrestrictedaccess to television, which, in Russia, has always been underthe strict control of the state. In 1993, Mr. Zhirinovsky enjoyedmore air time than any other candidate.

The LDPR’s printed literature was (and is, once again, in thecurrent election campaign) distributed in all the regions of Russia,practically unhindered. Furthermore, Zhirinovsky has a sizableunit of bodyguards which is rumored to include secret serviceofficers.

Mikhail Valentinov thinks that Zhirinovsky and a number of topLDPR activists are under the protection of Russian law enforcementagencies, including the Prosecutor General’s Office. After all,none of the Russian politicians has ever dared to treat his politicalopponents in such an audacious and insulting manner, includingthe use of physical violence, as Zhirinovsky does. Every timeit seemed that the LDPR leader would face an inevitable trial,and perhaps even imprisonment, for his behavior, the law enforcementagencies have failed to take action against him. Valentinov notesthat officials from the Prosecutor General’s Office make no secretthat instructions have been issued "from the top" (apparentlyfrom the Kremlin) that they should "not touch Zhirinovsky!"

"I know for a fact," Mikhail Valentinov recounted,"that Zhirinovsky’s regular trips to Saddam Hussein, forinstance, were suggested by certain Kremlin circles.In essence, they are trying to blackmail the West politically,to say: if you don’t support Yeltsin and Zhirinovsky comes topower as a result, the situation in the Middle East could changeradically, and not in America’s favor. This demonstration of the two extremist and militant leaders together, Hussein andZhirinovsky, makes a convincing point: If the latter becomes president of Russia and acquires access to nuclear arms, thereis the real possibility that the situation in the region wouldbecome destabilized. Zhirinovsky’s book The Last Thrust tothe South, notorious for its aggressive themes, is one ofthe parts of the ‘script’ written by the security services forZhirinovsky and his party."

Mikhail Valentinov believes that Zhirinovsky has diligently carriedout all his obligations and fulfilled all the tasks assigned tohim. But at the moment the LDPR is no longer needed as a scarecrowfor either Russia or the West because the Russian political spectrumhas changed dramatically since 1992. The Russian Communist party,headed by Gennady Zyuganov, has assumed the role of enemy toreform and democracy. Zyuganov and the Russian Communist partyhave replaced Zhirinovsky and the LDPR on the Russian domesticpolitical stage. The results of the recent local elections inVolgograd, where the Communists, just like the Liberal Democratsin their time, won a decisive victory, are a vivid confirmationof this.

So if the Communists are the new scarecrow in Yeltsin’s garden,what happens to Vladimir Zhirinovsky? According to Mikhail Valentinov,he will be quietly shunted off into secondary roles, completelydiscredited in the eyes of the public. It is rumored that duringthe collegium meeting of the Federal Security Service at whichMikhail Barsukov was appointed the new Director of the FSB (heldat the president’s dacha), Boris Yeltsin hinted that everyonehad grown weary of the LDPR and its leader. But the Kremlin willtolerate the Liberal Democratic Party for now because it coulddivert votes from the Communists and national-patriots.

How will a new "scarecrow" in Yeltsin’s political gardenaffect the president?

Recently Boris Yeltsin himself has been flirting with the left,trying to build a new political foundation out of the bricks ofstatism and the ideal of national interests. But as the presidentialelection approaches, he will use the threat of a takeover bythe revanchist-Communists and national-patriots to buy aid fromthe West and votes at home.

Aleksandr Zhilin is the National Security Issues Editor forMoskovskie novosti.