Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a Russian ultranationalist politician and ally of President Vladimir Putin, died on Wednesday morning in a Russian hospital from COVID-19 complications, according to a statement released by the State Duma, Russia’s parliament.
Zhirinovsky had been hospitalized for COVID-19 complications earlier in the year, although he had claimed that he had been vaccinated eight times prior to his infection. State Duma chairman Vyacheslav Volodin announced his death, and Putin offered a brief eulogy of him later in the day, claiming that he had “always, in any audience, in the most heated discussions…defended the patriotic position [and] the interests of Russia.”
Zhirinovsky, aged seventy-five, had served in the State Duma for more than three decades as the leader of the curiously named Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), a far-right political party that is neither liberal nor democratic in its outlook. In Russia and abroad, Zhirinovsky was known for his bombastic personality and outrageous and inflammatory public statements; at various times, he threatened to dump radioactive waste on the Baltic states, launch nuclear missiles at Japan, reconquer Alaska from the United States, and invade and seize enough of Central Asia that Russian soldiers could “wash their boots in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.”
Outside of these outlandish threats, Zhirinovsky accurately predicted how and when Russia would invade Ukraine, claiming that its military operation would begin “at 4:00 a.m. on February 22.” The invasion ultimately took place at 5:00 a.m. on February 24, two days later.
“I’d like 2022 to be peaceful,” Zhirinovsky said in that address to the State Duma. “But I love the truth. For 70 years, I’ve said the truth. It won’t be peaceful. It will be a year when Russia once again becomes great.”
Zhirinovsky’s political career predated Putin’s by nearly a decade. In the early 1990s, the LDPR was formed as the first non-communist party in post-Soviet Russia; in 1993, it became the largest party in the State Duma, raising fears in the West that the unpredictable and virulently anti-Western Zhirinovsky could become Russia’s president.
Ultimately, the LDPR’s political fortunes declined, and after Putin’s rise to power in 1999, it became part of Russia’s “systemic opposition,” a group of parties that were allowed to exist and ostensibly compete with Putin’s dominant United Russia party but remained loyal to the Kremlin in practice. It is unclear who will replace Zhirinovsky as the LDPR’s Leader.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.