The name of what is arguably Russia's most flamboyant, ultra-nationalist politician, and according to some the local incarnation of Donald Trump, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a deputy in the state Duma and leader of the nationalist LDPR party, is familiar to frequent readers: he most recently made an appearance on these pages two months ago, when he warned Germany that it risks utter destruction if it continued on its present track of operating Bundeswehr forces in the Baltics. Zhirinovsky also shares another feature with Donald Trump: both are outspoken to a fault. Which is why we were not surprised to read that as Reuters reported earlier, Zhirinovsky urged Americans to vote for Donald Trump as president or "risk being dragged into a nuclear war."
In an interview with Reuters, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, known in Russia and Europe for his fiery rhetoric, said that Trump was the only person able to de-escalate dangerous tensions between Moscow and Washington.
On the other hand, Hillary Clinton could spark World War Three, said the Russian who received a top state award from Putin after his pro-Kremlin Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) came third in Russia's parliamentary election last month.
"Relations between Russia and the United States can't get any worse. The only way they can get worse is if a war starts," said Zhirinovsky, speaking in his huge office on the 10th floor of Russia's State Duma, or lower house of parliament. "Americans voting for a president on Nov. 8 must realize that they are voting for peace on Planet Earth if they vote for Trump. But if they vote for Hillary it's war. It will be a short movie. There will be Hiroshimas and Nagasakis everywhere."
Well, we said he was outspoken. And, Just like Trump, Zhirinovsky tends to polarize his fellow countrymen. According to Reuters while "many Russians regard the politician as a clownish figure who makes outspoken statements to grab attention" he is also "widely viewed as a faithful servant of Kremlin policy, sometimes used to float radical opinions to test public reaction."
Zhirinovsky's comments come at a time when relations between Russia and the US are at generational lows, as a result not only of the conflicts raging over Syria and Ukraine but also the recent White House accusation that Russia was responsible for cyber attacks against Democratic Party organizations. In turn, an amused Putin replied his country was not involved in an effort to influence the U.S. presidential election. Instead Putin accused the US of "starting this hysteria, saying that this (hacking) is in Russia's interests. But this has nothing to do with Russia's interests," in a speech during a business forum in Moscow. He added that the accusations were a ploy to divert U.S. voters' attention at a time when public opinion was being manipulated. "Everyone is talking about 'who did it' (the hacking)," said Putin. "But is it that important? The most important thing is what is inside this information."
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But back to "Russia's Trump": according to Reutersi, "Zhirinovsky likes to shock liberal public opinion and he has frequently heaped scorn on the West, which he and other Russian nationalists regard as decadent, hypocritical and corrupted by political correctness.
His combative style, reminiscent of Trump's, ensures him plenty of television air time and millions of votes in Russian elections, often from the kind of blue-collar workers who are the bedrock of the U.S. Republican candidate's support.
Zhirinovsky once proposed blocking off mostly Muslim southern Russia with a barbed wire fence, echoing Trump's call for a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.
Zhirinovsky, who said he met Trump in New York in 2002, revels in his similarities with the American businessman - they are the same age, favor coarse, sometimes misogynistic language and boast about putting their own country first. Zhirinovsky has even said he wants a DNA test to see if he is related to Trump.
Where the two differ, is that unlike Trump, an "anti-establishment candidate in the U.S. presidential race with no past political experience", Zhirinovsky is a consummate political insider who has sat in the Duma for more than two decades; he is also more diplomatic when he needs to be, such as in this interview in which he continued to praise Trump: "(Trump) won't care about Syria, Libya and Iraq and why an earth should America interfere in these countries? And Ukraine. Who needs Ukraine?," said Zhirinovsky, who once counted himself a friend of Iraq's Saddam Hussein and Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and whose deaths he still laments.
"Trump will have a brilliant chance to make relations more peaceful ... He's the only one who can do this," he said, adding that Trump could even win a Nobel peace prize.
And if he likes Trump, he must dislike Hillary. Sure enough Zhirinovsky described Clinton as "an evil mother-in law" and said her record as secretary of state under Obama in 2009-2013 showed she was unfit to lead her country.
"She craves power. Her view is that Hillary is the most important person on the planet, that America is an exceptional country, as Barack Obama said," said Zhirinovsky. "That's dangerous. She could start a nuclear war."
He did not stop here: "Most Americans should choose Trump because men have been leading for millions of year. You can't take the risk of having one of the richest, most powerful countries led by a woman president," he said.
Asked about lewd comments Trump made about women in 2005 that have harmed his campaign, Zhirinovsky defended the Republican: "Men all round the world sometimes say such things that are just for their comrades. We must only consider his business (and political) qualities."
Zhirinovsky, who believes that although Putin and Trump have never met they could establish a close working relationship, had a very binary conclusion: "victory for Trump would be a gift to humanity. But if Hillary Clinton wins it will be the last U.S. president ever."
Only time will tell if he is right.