Russia’s ultranationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky orders aides to rape pregnant journalist
For 20 years, Kremlin’s firebrand has got away with rabid, verbal attacks - this time he appears to have gone too far
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party. Photograph: Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters
He has been called a buffoon, a madman and a Kremlin stooge. In the dour ranks of Russia’s political establishment, Vladimir Zhirinovsky has stood out for the past 20 years as a firebrand orator, hurling insults at his imagined enemies from Condoleezza Rice to ethnic minorities, women who wear make up and even the British royal family’s baby Prince George.
However, the leader of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia might have finally overstepped the mark when he ordered his aides to assault a pregnant journalist last week.
Russian politicians have joined forces with state media demanding that Zhirinovsky (68) be prosecuted for his outrageous behaviour in a move that could signal the beginning of the end of his long and controversial political career.
It was the eve of the Easter holidays and Zhirinovsky was taking questions from journalists at the Russian Duma or parliament in Moscow.
In attendance was Stella Dubovitskaya, a reporter from the state controlled Russia Today television network. Six months pregnant, she hovered at the back of the crowd asking in a near inaudible voice what should be done about Ukraine’s decision to ban Russian men from entering its territory.
Zhirinovsky, who has been showing up at the Duma lately dressed in military uniform to celebrate Russia’s annexation of Crimea, might have warmed to the theme.
Instead, he launched into a tirade about the insatiable sexual appetites of the women who participated in the Maidan revolution in Kiev that has brought Ukraine to the brink of war with Russia.
Gesturing frantically, he summoned his “idiot” aides forward, urging them to rape the journalist and “rape her hard”. “Christ is risen. Truly he is risen,” he said, rounding off the performance with the traditional Russian Easter greeting.
Politicians in the Duma, where the LDPR holds 56 of the 450 seats, have grown accustomed to Zhirinovsky’s antics over the years. Most are willing to humour his vituperative outbursts that liven up the debate of Kremlin-sponsored bills that are almost always voted on to the statute book.
This time, however, it looked as if things had gone too far. Zhirinovsky had “crossed a red line”, discrediting not just on himself, but the whole Russian Duma, Nikolai Svanidze, a member of the Russian Public Chamber, told Izvestiya.
Having fought and lost five presidential elections since 1991 and still in politics, Zhirinovsky has learned how to stand his ground.
Invited to join a political talk show on Easter Sunday, he appeared on the set in an oversized white satin tie, looking only mildly remorseful. “In old age we should have the wisdom to control our emotions and try to restrain ourselves from annoying people,” he said after apologising for speaking “ bit rudely” to Dubovitskaya.
Since then the journalist has gone on the offensive filing a police complaint asking for the prosecution of Zhirinovsky for “hooliganism” – a catch-all charge in Russia that can lead to prison sentences.
Some Duma deputies backed up the action calling for the withdrawal of the LDPR leader’s parliamentary immunity. Russia’s influential Orthodox Church weighed in, urging Zhirinovsky to repent for using God’s name in connection with a call for rape.
It is not the first time Zhirinovsky’s big mouth has got him into trouble. He has been persona non grata in Kazakhstan since recommending in 2007 that the former Soviet central Asian country be reabsorbed into a Moscow-led empire.
Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman head of Chechnya, has branded Zhirinovsky a “fascist” for proposing that Russia’s restive North Caucasus should be enclosed behind a barbed wire fence.
Vladimir Putin has on occasion told Zhirinovsky to tone down his rhetoric, but even a command from the Russian president has failed to modify his behaviour.
Zhirinovsky was a “skilled politician” and a “convenient partner for the Kremlin,” whom the authorities would not sacrifice readily, said Maria Lipman, scholar in residence at the Moscow Carnegie Center.
“He voices the frustration felt by many people about the collapse of the Soviet empire and Russia’s lost great power status . . . People laugh at him, they love the language . . . and he neutralises negative energies” in the electorate.
If there was no Zhirinovsky, a less manageable nationalist leader might appear and win a larger share of the vote. Dmitry Oreshkin, a Moscow-based political analyst said that as the political sands shift in Russia, Zhirinovsky’s days in the Duma may be numbered.
Since embarking on a third presidential term in 2012, Putin has recoiled from even moderate liberal reforms and embraced traditional, conservative values that appeal to nationalist voters.
As the Kremlin tilts towards the far right, Zhirinovsky might encroach on Putin’s political space – although he could never match the president’s popularity. “The Zhirinovsky function is exhausted. He has stopped being useful,” said Oreshkin. ” He’s a clever man. He understands what’s happening and he’s angry.”