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A Mad Russian’s Serious Plan for War : Zhirinovsky: It’s an open book, his vision of conquering the Muslim world. For the West, it’s 1930, Weimar time.

<i> Alexander Yanov is the author of "The Russian Challenge and the Year 2000." He is working on a book about Zhirinovsky. </i>

For anyone still in doubt that anti-democratic forces now dominate the Russian Parliament, the 253-67 vote granting amnesty to those who tried to overthrow Boris Yeltsin should be instructive. While U.S. pundits have been worrying about the future of market reform in Russia, the real issue facing Russians is who is most likely to inherit Yeltsin’s mantle.

The answer, provided by an authoritative survey conducted in December, is Vladimir Zhirinovsky. When respondents were asked for whom they would vote if Yeltsin were not on the list of candidates, Zhirinovsky was an undisputed favorite, leaving far behind both the leading reformer, Yegor Gaidar, and the leading proponent of slow-paced reform, Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin.

To date the American media have treated Zhirinovsky on the same anecdotal level as Hitler was viewed in the 1920s--that is, as an enfant terrible of politics, a quarrelsome clown and a brawler rather than as a man who has a pretty good shot at determining one day the geopolitical course of a nuclear superpower. Once again, as 70 years ago, we prefer to think that the current Russian government’s financial mismanagement, as in Weimar Germany, can only give the respectable reformers a chance to return to the helm--and then we will support them more effectively than we did before.

But given the total collapse of Russia’s industry, already equivalent to the devastation of the Great Depression (and which the reformers did not even start to address), it seems too late for such rosy scenarios. Instead, it is much more likely that any further mismanagement will only pave the way for Zhirinovsky.

If Zhirinovsky becomes president of Russia, it would mean another world war--I personally do not doubt this. His Hitlerian geopolitical plan, worked out by the strategists of Moscow’s general staff, is set forth in his book, “The Last March to the South.”

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First of all, Zhirinovsky does not believe that the current Russian crisis can be resolved in the domestic arena. Like Hitler, he sees the “salvation of the nation” in war and conquest. But not in a nuclear war, and not in one with either the West or with China. His quarrel is with the Muslim world (the only exception being his current friend, ally and financier, Saddam Hussein). Its riches, and especially its oil, he promises, would save Russia. He recognizes that “some people” in Tehran, Ankara or Riyadh may object to their countries becoming Russian provinces, “but the whole world should think that if Russia needs it--it is for the best.”

Besides, he notes, “the majority of mankind is interested in dissecting the Muslim world. The Muslim peril has to be eliminated.” This would supposedly be Russia’s greatest service to modern civilization. Moreover, the Russian army’s “last march to the south would lead it to the shores of the Indian Ocean and to the Mediterranean, and mean liberation for 20 million Kurds, hundreds of thousands of Baluchis (and) Pushtuns.”

To be sure, this would be “the last redivision of the world and thus has to be done as a form of shock therapy--suddenly, swiftly, effectively.”

“Our army,” Zhirinovsky continues, “is capable of this, all the more so since this is the only way of survival for the nation. And it will be the basis for the rejuvenation of the Russian army. The new military can be reborn only in the course of a military operation. An army degenerates in the barracks. It needs a goal, a great task. It needs to exercise its muscle. This would be purification for all of us. And the ringing of the Russian Orthodox bells on the shores of the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean would be the sound of peace for the people of the region.”

Such, in the briefest of outlines, is Zhirinovsky’s “Mein Kampf.” The first impression is certainly the same that one gets from reading Hitler’s opus: The man is certifiably insane. It is as easy to discard Zhirinovsky’s book in the 1990s as it was to dismiss Hitler’s in the 1920s. For one thing, what does he think the rest of the world would do while his armies marched to the oil fields of the Middle East in order to monopolize this vital strategic resource?

But wait. Zhirinovsky has a quite impressive answer to this. According to him, the rest of the world would do precisely what it did when Hitler’s armies marched around Europe--nothing. This is what Russia’s “nuclear shield” is all about: to ensure a new Munich on the part of the West. And, indeed, would any Western government risk annihilation for the sake of Turkey, let alone Iran?

All other Russian leaders, beginning with Mikhail Gorbachev, have politely asked the world for aid. The results are evident: Russia is perishing. Zhirinovsky threatens to take what he needs by force. And if it means a world war, so be it.

Perhaps the only, possibly fateful, blunder he has made is to let the world know too early what he has in store for it. “I see Russian soldiers preparing for their last march to the south. I see Russian commanders tracing on their maps the routes to the final destination. I see airborne planes in our southern regions. I see submarines coming to the surface at the shores of the Indian Ocean. I see our marines landing on these shores where the soldiers of the Russian army are already marching, and armored vehicles moving along with tremendous masses of tanks.”

Of course, in getting to the oil-rich Middle East, Russia’s armies would have to march through the former Soviet Union’s southern, largely Muslim, territories, and this is also something Zhirinovsky has very much in mind--their reconquest, accompanied, no doubt, by a little ethnic cleansing. But here, too, in light of Europe and the United States’ slow response to Bosnia, Zhirinovsky may be placing a shrewd bet.

There are still months, perhaps years, before this nightmarish vision becomes reality. Russia is only at about 1930 on the Weimar scale. The suicidal plan can still be derailed. But will the world read Zhirinovsky’s “Mein Kampf” any more attentively than it did Hitler’s? It may rather lull itself with a comfortable dream that reformers are somehow coming back to the helm in Moscow, without doing anything to make that happen.


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