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Sat Nov 11 17:33:45 MST 1995
The Jamestown Foundation
A BI-WEEKLY ON THE POST SOVIET STATES
PART 3 Volume I Number 23
VLADIMIR ZHIRINOVSKY: A SCARECROW IN YELTSIN'S GARDEN?
by Aleksandr Zhilin
Ever since the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia
(LDPR) won a surprising victory in the 1993 parliamentary
election, the Russian press has circulated the rumor that
both the party and its odious leader, Vladimir
Zhirinovsky, are creations of the security services.
These hints always beg the question: If the LDPR was
really created by the security services, then to what
end? On October 5-7, I interviewed former KGB staff
official Lieutenant Colonel Mikhail Valentinov who shared
several observations on this point.
According to Valentinov, even in Gorbachev's time,
the KGB was developing plans to create odious political
figures. Their aim was to implant a convincing and
persistent illusion in the public's mind that no
alternative to the country's chief political leader
existed. They also wanted to maintain a constant
reminder of the dangers inherent in extremist forces
taking power. "It is important to note," Valentinov
remarked, "that this trick was designed to work not only
within the USSR, but also to influence the West, to give
Gorbachev room for political negotiating. To say, for
example: 'If you don't support me, the USSR once again
will become a dangerous enemy.' During Gorbachev's time,"
Valentinov continued, "the project was not completed."
"The KGB, incidentally, was in no hurry to complete
the project because Gorbachev did not suffer from a lack
of pro-Communist opponents. For example, the primitive-
minded Yegor Ligachev, who personified the interests of
the Communist nomenklatura, served as a perfect contrast
to Gorbachev. As far as Boris Yeltsin was concerned, both
Gorbachev and the KGB had obviously underestimated him as
a potential rival. At the time, both in the Kremlin and
in the Lubyanka, they mistakenly thought that Yeltsin's
image as a drunkard was quite enough to turn the voters
away from him."
After the USSR collapsed and Boris Yeltsin came to
power, Valentinov recounted, the interest in the project
abated somewhat. Following the abortive August 1991
coup, the illusion of a decisive victory for democracy
emerged. This guaranteed some security for the new
government: Yeltsin was popular and did not fear any
rivals. However, as soon as it became clear, by early
1992, that Russia was already being threatened by the
quiet revenge of the Communist nomenklatura, Yeltsin's
popularity began to drop. It was becoming increasingly
obvious that Russia's leader would not be able to
accomplish his democratic reforms, and that, in any
event, his basic motivation was not to reform the
country but to preserve his own power. At this point, the
idea of creating a political scarecrow gained new
The old challengers, Valentinov went on, such as
Politburo members Yegor Ligachev, Nikolai Ryzhkov and
other representatives of the former Communist elite,
could not fill this role. At that time, few believed that
the CPSU could be revived and communist ideology was
extremely unpopular in Russia. In addition, the project
had one very important, if not essential, point: The
odious pseudo-rival artificially created by the security
services had to be manageable and had to be held firmly
"on tether." Otherwise, the undertaking would be a
failure, because the pseudo-rival, "unleashed" by the
security services, could at any moment get out of control
and become a real rival.
Valentinov told me that the selection of
candidates for this role was conducted very thoroughly
and took a long time. Hundreds of people were "examined,"
and the "pros" and "cons" of each carefully weighed.
The former KGB official, however, flatly refused
either to tell me why Zhirinovsky, in particular, had
been chosen, or how the KGB had managed to put him "on
tether," citing the oath he had signed not to divulge
classified information. Nevertheless, he told me the
Only a few people in the security services have
access to the information on the LDPR's finances, a fact
which distinguishes it from all other political parties.
In Russia, there is no government entity which is
obligated to provide the public with data on the finances
of political parties. But, according to Valentinov and
other reliable sources in the FSB (Federal Security
Service) and the GRU, (the Main Intelligence Directorate
of the Russian General Staff), there are special
departments in the security services where this
information is collected. Access to this information is
restricted, but it is used by the security services to
publicly discredit parties with "leaks," or to pressure
parties by blackmailing them with compromising materials.
But information on Zhirinovsky's financial affairs
is known only to a narrow circle of secret service
officers, is strictly classified, and leaks on this
subject are virtually impossible, according to
Valentinov. Moreover, it is impossible to find any
information on the LDPR's bank accounts, because they are
hidden in the same manner as the accounts used by the
security services to finance their networks of agents:
that is, they use bogus companies and fictitious legal
entities or persons. Payments are often made in cash so
that they are impossible to trace.
Valentinov noted that the sources of the LDPR's
financing are so well hidden that not even the tax
police and other fiscal structures have access to the
information. He points out that only the security
services could so effectively bury all data on the LDPR's
And the sums of money circulating around the LDPR
are impressive. The LDPR is the only political
organization not directly involved in 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 Zhirinovsky nor the LDPR as a whole have ever
opposed Yeltsin on the most important issues. On the
contrary, the LDPR faction, which is the largest in the
State Duma, has always supported the president. "Would a
true opposition behave in this way?" Valentinov asked and
flashed a devious smile. After a short pause, he added:
"However, the naive West trembles at the very thought of
Zhirinovsky coming to power and continually repeats the
cliche that there is no alternative to Yeltsin in
According to Valentinov, the LDPR's victory in the
1993 parliamentary elections did not come as a surprise
to the Russian president. He claims that forces within
the Kremlin, assisted by the security services, helped
Zhirinovsky to win. As evidence, he points out that
during the pre-election campaign, the odious leader had
unrestricted access to television, which, in Russia, has
always been under the strict control of the state. In
1993, Mr. Zhirinovsky enjoyed more air time than any
The LDPR's printed literature was (and is, once
again, in the current election campaign) distributed in
all the regions of Russia, practically unhindered.
Furthermore, Zhirinovsky has a sizable unit of bodyguards
which is rumored to include secret service officers.
Mikhail Valentinov thinks that Zhirinovsky and a
number of top LDPR activists are under the protection of
Russian law enforcement agencies, including the
Prosecutor General's Office. After all, none of the
Russian politicians has ever dared to treat his political
opponents in such an audacious and insulting manner,
including the use of physical violence, as Zhirinovsky
does. Every time it seemed that the LDPR leader would
face an inevitable trial, and perhaps even imprisonment,
for his behavior, the law enforcement agencies have
failed to take action against him. Valentinov notes that
officials from the Prosecutor General's Office make no
secret that instructions have been issued "from the top"
(apparently from the Kremlin) that they should "not touch
"I know for a fact," Mikhail Valentinov recounted,
"that Zhirinovsky's regular trips to Saddam Hussein, for
instance, 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 to power as a result, the situation in
the Middle East could change radically, and not in
America's favor. This demonstration of the two
extremist and militant leaders together, Hussein and
Zhirinovsky, makes a convincing point: If the latter
becomes president of Russia and acquires access to
nuclear arms, there is the real possibility that the
situation in the region would become destabilized.
Zhirinovsky's book The Last Thrust to the South,
notorious for its aggressive themes, is one of the parts
of the 'script' written by the security services for
Zhirinovsky and his party."
Mikhail Valentinov believes that Zhirinovsky has
diligently carried out all his obligations and fulfilled
all the tasks assigned to him. But at the moment the LDPR
is no longer needed as a scarecrow for either Russia or
the West because the Russian political spectrum has
changed dramatically since 1992. The Russian Communist
party, headed by Gennady Zyuganov, has assumed the role
of enemy to reform and democracy. Zyuganov and the
Russian Communist party have replaced Zhirinovsky and the
LDPR on the Russian domestic political stage. The results
of the recent local elections in Volgograd, where the
Communists, just like the Liberal Democrats in their
time, won a decisive victory, are a vivid confirmation of
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, completely discredited
in the eyes of the public. It is rumored that during the
collegium meeting of the Federal Security Service at
which Mikhail Barsukov was appointed the new Director of
the FSB (held at the president's dacha), Boris Yeltsin
hinted that everyone had grown weary of the LDPR and its
leader. But the Kremlin will tolerate the Liberal
Democratic Party for now because it could divert votes
from the Communists and national-patriots.
How will a new "scarecrow" in Yeltsin's political
garden affect the president?
Recently Boris Yeltsin himself has been flirting with the
left, trying to build a new political foundation out of
the bricks of statism and the ideal of national
interests. But as the presidential election approaches,
he will use the threat of a takeover by the revanchist-
Communists and national-patriots to buy aid from the West
and votes at home.
Aleksandr Zhilin is the National Security Issues Editor
for Moskovskie novosti.
Prism is a publication of the Jamestown Foundation.
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