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Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky, Ultranationalist Russian Politician, Dies at 75

Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky, an ultranationalist firebrand politician who was a pillar of the Kremlin’s political system, died on Wednesday. He was 75.

The chairman of Russia’s lower house of Parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, told lawmakers that Mr. Zhirinovsky had died “after a serious and lengthy illness.” Mr. Zhirinovsky had been admitted to a hospital in Moscow with Covid-19 in February, the Russian Health Ministry said.

As head of the Liberal Democratic Party, Russia’s main nationalist party, Mr. Zhirinovsky ran against President Vladimir V. Putin repeatedly in presidential elections. But he was a crucial player in Mr. Putin’s system of “managed democracy,” which included parties that were nominally in the opposition but were in fact loyal to the Kremlin.

Mr. Zhirinovsky’s role, analysts said, was to scoop up the votes of Russian nationalists while supporting Mr. Putin on key issues.

“He was the first populist of the modern European type,” said Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center, a research organization. “In Putin’s time, he became vital,” Mr. Kolesnikov added, because “he channeled the votes of far-right voters.”

In so doing, Mr. Zhirinovsky gave voice to nationalist, chauvinist and imperialist impulses — and advocated frequently the reuniting of Russia with what he considered historical Russian lands in Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

On Dec. 27, he gave a speech to Parliament that appeared to foreshadow Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, predicting that a turning point in the country’s history would come on Feb. 22. (The invasion began on Feb. 24.)

“This will not be a peaceful year,” Mr. Zhirinovsky said. “This will be the year when Russia finally becomes a great country again, and everyone must shut up and respect our country.”

Vladimir Volfovich Zhirinovsky was born on Apr. 25, 1946, in Soviet Kazakhstan to a Jewish father who was deported from western Ukraine after it was captured by Stalin, and an ethnic Russian mother.

Soon after World War II, his father was deported again, to Poland, and later emigrated to Israel. Mr. Zhirinovsky took the last name of his mother’s first husband.

After finishing school in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Mr. Zhirinovsky enrolled in the prestigious Faculty of Oriental Languages at Moscow State University, where he studied Turkish and literature. He also studied international relations and law at the Institute of Marxism-Leninism.

He started his career as a lawyer, but as soon as the Soviet system allowed for some degree of political pluralism, he quickly joined the democratic whirlwind of the newly emerging, independent Russia. In 1989, he co-founded the Liberal Democratic Party, which, despite its name, became the country’s main nationalist party and a significant political force.

A brashly engaging public speaker, Mr. Zhirinovsky quickly gained prominence, arguing for the preservation of the Soviet Union and warning that its collapse would lead to bloodshed.

He ran for president six times, never winning more than 10 percent of the vote but setting a vitriolic tone in the country’s politics. And he had a knack for saying what senior Russian officials appeared to believe but were afraid to say publicly; in 2016, he exclaimed “God save the Czar!” after receiving a state order of merit from Mr. Putin.

After Mr. Putin’s electoral victory in 2018, Mr. Zhirinovsky predicted — correctly — that the Kremlin would soon lift the constitutional limit of two consecutive presidential terms. “That’s it. He’s now there for life,” he said of Mr. Putin.

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