Russian Bad Boy Zhirinovsky Gets Promotion


He has smooched with Libya's Moammar Kadafi, toasted Stalinist North Korea and hobnobbed with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Nevertheless, Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky, the enfant terrible of Russian politics, has been rewarded for his "outstanding contribution to the strengthening of the defense of the motherland" with a military promotion by none other than Pavel S. Grachev, Russia's defense minister, the Itar-Tass news agency reported Thursday.

His highly unusual promotion from Russian army reserve captain to lieutenant colonel--skipping over the rank of major entirely--was signed by Grachev on Monday, while Zhirinovsky was on a visit to Libya.

The quasi-official Itar-Tass interpreted the move as pay-back for Zhirinovsky's lonely support for the Russian military operation in Chechnya, as well as "a signal for the army and navy to vote for Zhirinovsky at the presidential elections to be held in 1996."

Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin, the favored contender in that election, was resting quietly at late Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev's former dacha after abruptly cutting short a whistle-stop tour through Russia's heartland.

Zhirinovsky used the promotion as an opportunity to issue a written address to Russia's armed forces, promising to eliminate the "disgraceful phenomenon" of homeless officers and to pay soldiers the ruble equivalent of $600 to $750 per month--a princely salary in today's Russia.

Zhirinovsky has lost some of his populist luster since winning election to the Russian Parliament in 1993 with nearly 25% of the vote.

In the latest polls he is doing no better than Yeltsin, whose support has plunged to 6%.

Zhirinovsky's boorish behavior abroad has embarrassed many Russians, including Ivan P. Rybkin, Speaker of the Russian Parliament.

At home, his antics are more a source of amusement, such as a recent Playboy magazine article in which he proposed that his female interviewer have group sex with his bodyguards.

Yet the Zhirinovsky phenomenon has heightened international worries about Russia's stability, inflamed anti-Western sentiment here and propelled Yeltsin to adopt more nationalistic policies on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the former Yugoslav federation, Iran, Iraq and other issues.

Zhirinovsky has taken to filing libel lawsuits against anyone who brands him a fascist; detractors now prefer to call him a clown.

But in recent months he has demonstrated that he is more than capable of creating international diplomatic incidents.


Nowadays, Zhirinovsky is becoming a free-lance globe-trotting agent provocateur .

Like a touring punk rock band that trashes hotel rooms after every gig, the peripatetic 48-year-old lawmaker appears bent on crashing Russian diplomacy in every corner of the Earth.

Denied visas to visit by France, Switzerland, Slovenia, Norway, Spain and Germany (twice), Zhirinovsky has of late been turning his attention to the pariah capitals of the world.

He jetted off to pay his respects to the new North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, but was received by other senior officials instead. He called the repressive government "an oasis" to the world's peoples.

On a visit to Baghdad in February, Zhirinovsky proposed an anti-Western alliance between the Russian Orthodox and Muslim worlds. He told Hussein that "we have one common enemy--the West."

This week, Zhirinovsky held a two-hour heart-to-heart with Kadafi and promised to oppose trade sanctions against Libya being sought by the United States in retaliation for Libya's refusal to surrender two suspects in the 1988 bombing of a Pan American World Airways passenger jet.

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