- Zhirinovsky's World
The December 1993 elections constituted an undeniable setback for democracy in Russia. Among the main causes of this reversal were the sense many voters had that Yegor Gaidar's reforms had failed and in failing had damaged the economic prospects of the country; general concern that Russia was rudderless and drifting; and disillusionment with establishment politicians in the wake of ten excruciating months of "dual-power" rule culminating in the bloody crisis of October 1993. A fuller list would also have to note the upsurge in Russian self-awareness that was occurring as ethnic Russians came increasingly to reject their old "Soviet" identity and sought a return to national roots; a concomitant anger over the increase in separatist sentiment in non-Russian regions of the Russian Federation; a gnawing sense that Russia had ceased to be a "great power"; and, finally, a rising concern among Russians about the plight of their co-ethnics in the "near abroad" (as the territory of the former USSR outside Russia is called).
The largest beneficiary of voter disillusionment and alienation was, of course, Vladimir Zhirinovsky. If the geopolitical project sketched in Zhirinovsky's recent book, The Last Thrust to the South, and in his campaign platform were to be implemented, then democracy would find itself massively threatened not only in Russia but throughout Europe, Asia, and probably Africa as well.
Like Adolf Hitler—another energetic "geopolitician" with whom he is often compared—Zhirinovsky views political life in purely Darwinian terms, recognizing neither God, nor conscience, nor morality. As he sees it, there is only an indifferent "world of nature" in which big fish [End Page 27] devour smaller ones and wolves test their strength by lunging at one another in the forest. Russia, for Zhirinovsky, is a powerful beast whose territorial appetite must be satiated. In addition, in Zhirinovsky's view, Russia finds herself mortally imperiled on her southern borders by the dire threats of Islamic fundamentalism and "pan-Turkism."
The solution that Zhirinovsky proposes for these and other problems is breathtaking in its scope. The world's great powers, he believes, must boldly divide up the world into clearly delineated "spheres of influence." Within its appointed sphere, each great power should be free to act as it chooses.
The entire "space" of the former Soviet Union, Zhirinovsky asserts, belongs to Russia, and she is obliged to take it all back. He notes that this new Russian empire will be Russian in name but ethnically diverse, as was the case with the Czarist empire. Russia, Zhirinovsky contends, is fully justified in undertaking a "last thrust to the south" to rid herself once and for all of the mortal threat from that quarter. As a result of this southward drive, three countries—Iran, Turkey, and Afghanistan—will be forcibly incorporated into Russia. On their territory, Russian will become the lingua franca and the ruble the official currency. Islam's influence will be markedly curtailed. "Under the banner of the Russian Army and of the Orthodox Church," notes the professed atheist Zhirinovsky, "we must finish with the Muslim danger" (Segodnya, 25 December 1993).
Zhirinovsky's book concludes with a vision of Russian submarines surfacing off the coast of Iran; of Russian commandos storming ashore; of Russian bombers taking off from their bases and streaking south; of Russian tanks rumbling southward. We are, in short, treated to a glimpse of a future blitzkrieg.
Once Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan have been devoured and ingested, Zhirinovsky assures us, Russia will then entertain no further expansionist designs. Unlike Alexander the Great, Hitler, and Napoleon—figures to whom he compares himself and his mission—Zhirinovsky tells us that he has no intention of ruling the world. As the reader may undoubtedly suspect, however, his candor on this matter is very much open to question.
As a geopolitician, Zhirinovsky knows that other powerful states also have large appetites. His carefully delineated "spheres of influence" are designed to remove this potential source of conflict. Thus China, under his scheme, would be free to consume Outer Mongolia, and then to compete with Japan for hegemony throughout Southeast Asia, Australia, and Oceania. (Korea is not mentioned in this...