Since Russia’s parliamentary tradition is neither strong nor of long standing, one would expect the Duma to be rather different from our own Mother of Parliaments.
So it is, to no one’s surprise. However, what is indeed surprising is how different. One critical difference is that the Duma doesn’t legislate; it rubber-stamps.
You see, my friend Vlad is fully committed to the system of one man, one vote, as long as he’s the man. Hence, whenever a serious decision is to be made, Vlad debates it with himself and, overriding his own objections, casts his vote as he sees fit. Since according to official doctrine Vlad is synonymous with Russia, the Duma never votes against the country.
Yet this isn’t to say it performs no useful function. Quite the contrary: by using parliamentary immunity, it keeps some politicians out of prison; and by using its daises, it keeps some others in the public eye.
Alexei Lugovoy, he of the polonium fame, is one of the many examples of the first category; Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Deputy Speaker, by far the most colourful example of the second.
He is also a useful illustration of the difference between Russia’s parliament and ours. For instance, I find it hard to imagine that our own dear Deputy Speaker would ever match Zhirinovsky’s eloquence, as displayed a fortnight ago on Russian TV.
In broad strokes, he called for launching nuclear strikes against the Ukraine and the nearby Nato countries, while blackmailing the more remote ones with nuclear-tipped ICBMs. Here are some choice excerpts:
“I’d talk to Barack Obama and tell him: ‘Barack, you’re playing too complex a game, you’re spending too much money in vain. I’m offering a cheaper solution: I’ll restore all USSR borders except Poland and Finland.’ [Actually, Mr Z got carried away here: ‘restore’ is a wrong word because neither Poland nor Finland was ever part of the USSR. But hey, it’s the thought that counts.]… I’d tell Obama in no uncertain terms: ‘You don’t want to fight with us, you’re scared of nuclear war. Fine, it’s even possible you could hurt us badly. But I’d wipe out half of America. To begin with Washington, there’d be a hole in its place, and no one would find even a living hair in that hole.’ Europe is scared of us anyway, so there’s no point even talking to it… If you [meaning the Ukrainian government] bomb Donbass, we’ll bomb Kiev… We’ll shoot all your governors, starting with Saakashvili [former president of Georgia, recently appointed governor of the Odessa province]. Then they’ll be scared. Then we’ll have a different situation both in Europe and the Ukraine. Because no one would know what would happen tomorrow. Come on, Shoigu [Russia’s defence minister], put our missiles on red alert! Aim them at Berlin, London, Washington!… Then they’ll say: ‘What, tomorrow there will be war? No, don’t, we agree to everything.’ They want to stay alive, see? They’re having fun there, a picnic – they’d never fight.
“One sharp shout from Moscow, and that’s it. Nato would be disbanded in 24 hours because otherwise all Nato capitals would be destroyed. They’d give it a think and say, ‘Fine, we’ll disband Nato to stay alive, to keep having fun…’ The Russian flag must be raised everywhere where the Russian army has ever been [Paris and Berlin spring to mind, not to mention all of Eastern Europe]…”
You might say this is a madman’s rant, and I might agree or disagree. But it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that Vladimir Zhirinovsky is one of the top politicians in Russia, where he is used to enunciate in hysterical, seemingly deranged words his namesake’s policy.
For the theme of nuclear blackmail keeps popping up in the speeches by Putin’s spokesmen and even the national leader himself. Zhirinovsky just adds a bit of crazy spin, which is a tactic widely used by bullies.
When trying to pre-empt any resistance, they’d feign madness, planting a seed of doubt into the opponent’s mind. He’s unlikely to stick this pencil in my eye, but who knows, he just may be crazy enough…
I for one have no fear of Zhirinovsky. But you know what scares me? That he just may be right about Nato’s likely reaction to the blackmail.