As a regular listener of Echo of Moscow, I took note of a July 7, 2010, episode of ‘Народ против’ (The People Versus), starring the notorious Vladimir Zhirinovsky. The subject of the show was “The New START Treaty Shouldn’t Be Ratified,” and Vladimir Volfovich came to Эхо’s studio clad in a casual, short-sleeved shirt, ready to yell at the top of his lungs about how arms control imperils Russian national security.
This kind of political theater represents the Russian version of Mitt Romney’s insane anti-arms-control rambling in The Washington Post last week. In both cases, the spectacle is acted out by a struggling politician who has never been able to mainstream his appeal. Of course, Zhirinovsky is a lackey of the Kremlin — a comedian under contract to dance and scream obscenities: someone to remind Russians why they mustn’t elect a real nationalist (or perhaps to dupe his heartfelt supporters into believing that nationalists already have a voice in the government). Romney, meanwhile, seems to have grasped at the reins of the Republican Party in an effort to steer its position on New START and thereby better his odds of leading the party in future elections.
Neither man is poised to have much of an impact. LDPR is merely the loudest member of a toothless parliamentary opposition. The Communists are still the closest thing in Russia to a registered, somewhat-empowered opposition — but their ranks, from the grassroots to the leadership, are old and senile, and the party as a whole faces an impending demographic crisis. For Zhirinovsky, that his playful celebrity continues to be tolerated is directive enough to go out and simulate dissent about New START. Romney, however, has only himself (and perhaps his ghostwriter) to blame for a spontaneous and rather embarrassing WaPo op-ed. Senator Jon Kyl wasted no time publishing an agnostic response in The Wall Street Journal on New START, never mentioning Romney, but clearly trying to recapture the debate and retake control over Republican hawkish policy-making. Indeed, Kyl hasn’t yet decided whether or not he supports the treaty, and the Republican Party as a whole continues to waffle in division on the subject. (The Obama Administration noticed this, too, and has taken steps to court Republican lawmakers.)
Zhirinovsky’s appearance on Эхо came the day after Mitt Romney’s article. Both are playing a political game, channeling patriotic militarism in the hopes that some of their paranoia will resonate with the public. In Russia, Zhirinovsky and LDPR operate as decoys to divert the populism of people who would actually endorse LibDem rhetoric.
In the United States, Romney is also trying to endear himself to the sympathetic ears of the country’s reactionaries. Willfully misreading the treaty, he warns of a dangerous world in which America is disarmed (“perhaps the president’s eagerness for global disarmament”), outgunned (“the United States must drastically reduce our number of launchers but Russia will not”), and bullied by its adversaries (“the Obama administration bows to Russia’s insistence”). This, of course, is exactly what Zhirinovsky says about the treaty, except Zhirik argues that it’s Russia that will end up exposed and later in ruins.
Romney did a fantastic job misrepresenting and distorting the truth about New START, but he could still learn a thing or two from the master of hyperbole: Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Read on for my translation of (only the beginning of) Zhirinovsky’s appearance on Эхо, which demonstrates precisely what Mitt Romney might sound like, had he been born a Russian. I’ve marked in red text Zhirinovsky’s tastiest fulminations.
Olga Bychkova: Good evening and good day. You’re on the air with Echo of Moscow radio station and RTVi television station, on the program ‘The People Versus” with Olga Bychkova. Today we have with us ‘people versus’ Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of LDPR, and we’ll be discussing the ratification of New START. Our group as usual is composed of seven members of our Frequent Listeners Club. [Addressing Zhirinovsky] But first, please briefly outline your position: why are you against New START?
Vladimir Zhirinovsky: LDPR and I personally oppose the ratification of New START because it threatens the safety of Russia. It raises the cost of our missile defense; it allows the Americans to expand the number of bases they have encircling us; and seriously limits our nuclear shield. If we sign this agreement, then in seven years we’ll be left with just three-line rifles. This is very dangerous. We’ve battled this for twenty years already. The first time they tried to dictate to us was in 1991. It didn’t work. We didn’t ratify it — we refused. It’s already the tenth time and the Americans are still in noncompliance. They play the fox, using these agreements to learn the locations of our factories, where we build our rockets, but they don’t grant us such access: it’s up to the tollgate and no farther. What kind of inspection is it if you can’t get passed the gate? We’re at a disadvantage. They have an army that is everywhere: in Afghanistan, in Iraq, they’re placing missiles in Poland, they’ll put missiles in Romania, in Bulgaria — bases all around, in the hundreds, a million soldiers. Japan, Korea — they’ve occupied the entire world! 150 countries since 1945. They themselves say that they’re building a new world on the ruins of Russia, against Russia.
Bychkova: They say that themselves?
Zhirinovsky: They say that they want to destroy us, that they don’t need Russia.
Bychkova: They say it as directly as that?
Zhirinovsky: That’s what they say. Ever since 1945, this has been said by John Dulles, Eisenhower, Kissinger, all their presidents, and today all their public figures say the same thing.
Bychkova: And Obama also says this?
Zhirinovsky: Obama wants to be a president who keeps his promises. He promised to pull their troops out of Iraq within six months of his inauguration. Well? He entered office on January 20, 2009, meaning June 20, 2009, — a year ago — the troops should have been gone. Has even one soldier left? It’s deception. And here there is a danger that they’re deceiving [us], and [perhaps] they’ve deployed missiles south of Kaliningrad, and everywhere around us. Our technology is old — it’s all Soviet and antiquated. But they upgrade theirs. Their navy is everywhere. Ours is destroyed. Again: we’re at a disadvantage and in danger.
Bychkova: Understood, we’re in danger. Sergei, your question.
Sergei Kostiaev: Sergei Kostiaev, Poli Sci PhD candidate and senior research associate at the Institute of Scientific Information of Social Sciences, Russia Academy of Sciences. Concerning the idea that we’ll be left with only rifles: according to the treaty, we would [still] have 1,550 missiles in our arsenal. This treaty would be active for a period of ten years. The American military budget is twenty times higher than Russia’s. America’s economy is one-fifth of world GDP. Russia’s is 1.6%. In your opinion and strictly in terms of economics, are we in any condition to support an arms race and not scale back our nuclear weapons?
Zhirinovsky: That’s it precisely. We can’t support it, if we’re going to honestly observe this treaty — if we ratify it. Because, under this treaty, we have to destroy our most effective Soviet-era rockets, and we can’t build new ones. But the Americans, you see, they have a massive budget that’s always upgrading their missiles. They continuously produce [new] submarines, and their planes patrol the world everywhere. Our planes are the TU-160 — a 40-year-old model that should be sent to the junkyard. Understand: we have no new planes, no new rockets, and our submarines aren’t even issued the missiles we’re allowed to have. We have only the “Yuri Dolgorukii” — one submarine, and they have hundreds. We have the “Sineva” rocket, but no subs on which to deploy it. Or it’s the other way around, and we have a sub, but no missiles for it. That is, we’re already disarmed now. But we still have powerful old missiles — Soviet missiles — and we need to preserve them. But, with this treaty, we’ll need to destroy them. Having been left with roughly 200 rockets that can’t even reach the USA (save a couple [that might make it]), the rest will be destroyed from space the moment they launch, or the moment they enter flight, or the moment they re-enter the atmosphere. We’ll scarcely be able to deliver a strike with one or two missiles. We won’t be able to do anything.
Kostiaev: But the Americans are also taking it upon themselves to reduce their nuclear arms to 1,500.
Zhirinovsky: I agree. But their remaining missiles will allow them to deliver a terrible blow, because they encircle us with bases. We don’t have a single base left. We had a base in Cuba, a base in Cameroon, and one in Vietnam. Today we don’t have one foreign base. Are we going to launch [a counterattack] from Tskhinvali? From Sukhumi? That’s a monkey farm down in Sukhumi. Nobody’s firing anything from there. Since the time of Gorbachev, we’ve just destroyed and destroyed. All that remains is the last, not-to-be-touched emergency rations. If we destroy this, that’s the end. I’m not saying a war will break out, but that we’ll be unarmed and then they’ll dictate whatever conditions they like. Okay, it’s Obama now. And what if it’s not Obama, but a John McCain? Or what if it’s some kind of Barry Goldwater or someone else who’s prepared for war? What will come of us then? Understand that this is dangerous, and not just because they have more divisions and we have fewer. With a total mobilization, we have just as many divisions [as them]. But here mobilization isn’t possible. Here we need engineering savvy — we need to create, position, and take aim. We have our ‘Bulava,’ our very best missile, and we can’t even hit a target. Whereas just last February they [the Americans] used a laser to destroy a rocket from space. They already have a space-based defense, and they’ll destroy every last Russian missile with laser-beams. And we can’t even get our rockets off the ground.
Kirill Rodionov: Kirill Rodionov, diplomatic political scientist. You say that the U.S. inherently poses a strategic threat to modern Russia. But historically it’s the case that Russia has never fought a war with the United States. We’ve fought with France and Germany, but never with America. Why do you think that some kind of conflict with the U.S. is possible in the next 10-20 years?
[Bychkova: In what kind of panic?]
Zhirinovsky: Because our enemy is young. We slew Genghis Khan, the Teutonic knights, the Swedish Crown, Napoleon, Hitler, the Turks — how many times have we been to war? These tricky people, they’re far off. You’re not looking at the geography. If the Americans were where Iran is, we would have come to blows a hundred times already. But they’re far away, across the ocean, and we can’t touch them: there’s no chance for us or for them to invade, because we’re far away, thousands of kilometers. And they’re the only ones today capable — the two of us are the only ones in the world capable of destroying one another. China has still yet to reach this level. And they [the Americans] hate us. They rule over the world. Their currency, their money, their army — it’s a monopoly. And here we have these Russians with their missiles. Can you imagine how agitating this must be? To switch things over to the political sphere: I’m [also] annoyed by United Russia and KPRF. I hope they’re destroyed, as they meddle in my struggle to win over voters. They’re new, young, strong, and they have more money. I want them to be destroyed. It’s the same with us. They, the Americans, want to destroy us because only we are ready to compete with them.
Rodionov: Perhaps they won’t destroy us after all? Sure, we’re not allies, but no one from the U.S. political elite says openly that they want to destroy Russia.
Zhirinovsky: Agreed. They need their resources. They’re catching up to Chinese workers, who are building pipelines to Chukotka and Alaska, and from there to America. BP, do you see how dangerous underwater drilling is? Our oil is coming, and they don’t have to do anything. Take the money and that’s it. Our Deputy Prime Minister will sit there and count the bills. But we aren’t going to develop [as a result]. They’re not going to destroy or execute us, but we won’t develop. We’ll be allowed to exist as a colony. The management will sit in Moscow, and Siberia will become empty, where there will only be workers to build extra pipelines, to serve as a foothold against China. In other words, they need our territory, and they’ll keep a part of our bureaucracy. That is to say, we’re dying out — and they won’t let us die. We’re still dying out. We still don’t have a balance of births and deaths. Right now the population is contracting. And if you throw in poisoned food (with which they supply us — [like] nozhki Busha), we’ll just eat this filth. They send poisoned medicines. They carry out forced-sterilizations, deception, and corruption. They send us trinkets and drugs. Thirty thousand of our youths are dying annually now. Nothing like this has ever happened. Next it will be 300 thousand dying every year, and then a million. By 2050, there won’t be anyone left. They [the Americans] won’t fight, you’re right. Why would they waste the missiles? They’ll be needed for future wars. They’re destroying us by attrition, buying our government officials. We have entirely corrupt state officials. They [the Americans] pay 2-3 times more than the Russian government, and these corrupt scoundrels have handed over the country, not giving it a second thought, each with a ‘green card’ in his pocket, and children studying abroad, and money stashed abroad, and offices there. And clubs there — everything there. Here they’re just visiting to go to work, these mercenaries.
[End of translation, but the actual show continued on for another 30 minutes.]