Andreas Umland
January 2015

Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s World War III: The NATO Label and Defamation in German Political Debates

Re: Reinhard Lauterbach, "Das NATO-Netzwerk schlägt zurück" [The NATO Network Strikes Back], Junge Welt, 13 December 2014.

Observers outside Germany may be surprised to learn that a frequent condemnation in German political debates is that a certain action, person or organization is linked to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Startlingly, this reproving label is popular among many Germans, despite the fact that West Germany had been a member of NATO since 1955, while East Germany joined NATO in 1990 via German reunification. Almost all Germans who use the NATO label to disapprove of their opponents are citizens of a NATO member country. Most of them have spent their adult or even entire lives on NATO territory, some within the public administration of a NATO member state. Only very few of Germany’s ardent NATO critics seem to have renounced their citizenship and terminated their presence in a NATO member state.

The “NATO” Label and Germany’s Current Debate on the Russian-Ukrainian Conflict

Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, German critics – especially those posing as politically left – have used references to NATO, the US, the CIA etc., in order to interpret the numerous crises in and between various post-Soviet states. Sometimes, the left’s conspiratological interpretations have also been extended to German institutions and persons linked to or suspected to be linked to the United States. Among many others, I, too, have been repeatedly depicted in comments, rejoinders, and blogs concerning my statements on Ukraine and Russia, as a former holder of a NATO Individual Fellowship at Stanford’s Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace, at Palo Alto, California, in 1996-1997. This information is freely accessible in my public biographies on Wikipedia and other websites. I herewith confirm this fact as well as attach NATO’s official letter concerning its grant – and, thus, will probably encounter even more outrage from Germany’s left. Until now, I have not, and would normally not have, reacted to these “accusations” about my past NATO funding. The growing interest that the German pseudo-left is paying not only to my publications, but also to my biography is overblown.

However, more recently, my brief funding by the NATO Press and Information Office in the 1990s, was made a discussion topic and referred to in an article headline, by the Berlin-based officially left-wing newspaper Junge Welt [Young World]. This all-German daily is the successor outlet of the main organ of the former GDR’s so-called Free German Youth and today is edited by the self-admitted former Stasi informer Arnold Schoelzel. In mid-December 2014, Junge Welt author Reinhard Lauterbach attacked my colleagues and me in an article titled “The NATO Network Strikes Back.” In his article, Lauterbach in detail criticizes a joint letter of 142 German-speaking experts on Eastern Europe titled “Friedenssicherung statt Expansionsbelohnung” (English version titled "Securing Peace Instead of Rewarding Expansion"). Lauterbach uses the NATO label in the article’s heading in reference to my former NATO funding to denounce not only my appeal, but also that of my 141 colleagues. The appeal he criticized had been published in such outlets as Zeit Online, Die Welt, Der Tagesspiegel, Der Standard, and Berliner Zeitung as well as on the website (where it can still be freely signed by everybody). It was later re-published, in Russian, on the website of Deutsche Welle, and, in English, in the web edition of the World Affairs Journal. A Facebook event page titled “Friedenssicherung statt Expansionsbelohnung” collects further persons who support the appeal of 142 German-speaking Eastern Europe experts.

In early December 2014, I drafted, edited, and organized the collective statement “Securing Peace Instead of Rewarding Expansion” as a rebuttal to an earlier open letter of 60 prominent Germans, called "Wieder Krieg in Europa? Nicht in unserem Namen!“ (Again War in Europe? Not in Our Name!) published in Zeit Online and Der Tagesspiegel, on 5 December 2014. In that first open letter, a range of former leading politicians, famous artists, well-known industry representatives, and influential media representatives argued for “sober-mindedness and dialogue with Russia.” They spoke out for an equidistant approach towards Moscow and Kyiv in order to overcome what is in Germany often referred to as “the Ukraine Crisis.” The signees’ assumption appears to be that a “sober-minded” attitude by Germany to the occupying country and the occupied country would bring about a solution to the military conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The signees, moreover, seemed to suggest that the West’s behavior after the break-up of the Soviet Union makes Russia’s recent behavior towards Ukraine understandable, if not partly justifiable.

The German-speaking Eastern Europe experts’ rebuttal to this dilettante and unhelpful statement among most of the 60 signees focused on the apparent lack of knowledge and comprehension concerning Russia, Ukraine and their conflict. Many of them seem to have no comprehensive affiliation to, extensive experience with, or deeper interest in, Europe’s East. Apart from some other supposedly left-wing outlets, the Junge Welt then reacted to our rebuttal and, in doing so, used my former NATO funding to pronounce us a “NATO network.”

Zhirinovsky’s “Last Dash to the South” and Plan to Destroy Turkey

The explanation for why NATO gave me a research fellowship is simple. In the mid-nineties, I proposed to the alliance a research project dealing with a future scenario that amounted to nothing less than a scripture for a third world war involving NATO. Specializing in the re-emerging extreme right of the post-Soviet period, and comparing the developments in the Russian Federation to the rise of German fascism in the Weimar Republic, I asked NATO to co-finance a larger investigation into the early political biography, ideology and activities of Vladimir Zhirinovsky. This new figure on Moscow’s political scene was, at the point of my application, still only a little-known new Russian politician who is, until today, often dismissed as a mere political clown. Yet, Zhirinovsky had come in third in Russia’s first presidential elections of June 1991. His misnamed Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) had won the first post-communist multi-party parliamentary election of December 1993 with almost 23%. Why did NATO get interested in this flamboyant post-Soviet figure?

Immediately before entering the Russian State Duma, with a sizeable faction under his control, Zhirinovsky had developed, first in his party’s official newspaper’s 1992-1993 issues, and then in his major book The Last Dash to the South, published in September 1993, an elaborate plan for a new imperial expansion of Russia. The LDPR head envisaged a southern enlargement of the Russian state that would go significantly further than a re-occupation of post-Soviet Central Asia and the Southern Caucasus. It foresaw, apart from a re-integration into Russia of formerly Soviet republics, an annexation of Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and, by implication, Pakistan to Russia. Zhirinovsky’s “last dash to the South” thus previewed an extension of Moscow’s rule far beyond the borders of both the Tsarist and the Soviet empires. The “last dash to the South” was presented by him as a means to “soothe” (uspokoit’) those whom Zhirinovsky called “Southerners” (iuzhane) and save “the North” from destructive southern subversion.

In his party’s misnamed newspaper Liberal, the LDPR’s founder wrote that “[...] our model [implies] the dissolution of Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan as artificial states which have no prospects and which are essentially conquesting [zakhvatnicheskie] because they are eternally nomadic tribes” (Liberal, no. 2, 2012, p. 4). One among several motivations for Zhirinovsky’s plan was Russia’s supposed centuries-old Christian mission: “It is necessary that everything returns to its place, that the Christian world re-unites again in Jerusalem, that the bells of the Christian-Orthodox Church ring again in Constantinople [...]” (ibid.). Another motivation was the beneficial domestic repercussions that, in Zhirinovsky’s view, the military operation to occupy Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan would have: “Our army will fulfill this task. It will be the means for the survival of the nation as a whole, [and] the foundation for the rebirth [vozrozhdenie] of the Russian army. New armed forces can be reborn only as a result of a combat operation. An army cannot get stronger in registration offices and barracks. It needs an aim, a task” (Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Poslednii brosok na iug. Edited by A.V. Mitrofanov. Moskva: Pisatel’/Bukvitsa, 1993, p. 70; the below numbers in brackets refer to pages in this edition). Zhirinovsky was aware what Russia’s “last dash to the South” would imply, and admitted: “Regrettably, part of the population will perish because, in the South, there is not enough medicine and culture” (71). Being a Turkologist by profession and former student-intern in Turkey, Zhirinovsky’s primary target was Turkey and the abolition of the Turkish state, by whatever means it takes: “Nothing would happen to the world, if the whole Turkish nation perished [...]” (130).

As far as in 1993 Turkey was, and still is a member country of NATO, not only Ankara, but also Brussels took an interest in Zhirinovsky’s plans. That concern later on proved to be justified: Zhirinovsky’s State Duma faction has been a constant part of the Russian legislature since 1993. The LDPR’s parliamentary arm is suspected to have played some role in such matters as the decision to introduce Russian federal troops into Chechnya, triggering the First Chechen War in late 1994, or in Russia’s violation of the international embargo against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, during the 1990s. Zhirinovsky’s party has proven to be a more permanent and prevalent feature of post-Soviet Russian politics than was suspected after its showy leader had become infamous in the early 1990s. By now, LDPR representatives have been taking part in Russian public discourse for more than 20 years, including prime-time shows of major TV channels, on an almost daily basis. For several years, Zhirinovsky was Deputy Speaker of the State Duma, and thus one of the officially highest representatives of the Russian state. Today, his party’s faction is represented in the State Duma presidium by Zhirinovsky’s son Igor Lebedev.

From a Student of Russian Fascism to Leader of a “NATO Network”

Given Zhirinovsky’s bellicose foreign policy agenda and continued presence in Russian high politics and mass media, it should not come as a surprise that NATO would be ready to co-fund a research project about this political force. My 600-page first doctoral dissertation resulted from the support by, among other funders, NATO, and is entitled: “Vladimir Zhirinovsky in Russian Politics: Three Approaches to the Emergence of the Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia 1990-1993” (Dr. Phil. in History, Free University of Berlin, 1997). Its scan can be freely downloaded, as a PDF (80 MB), here.

Unfortunately, my history thesis of 1997 still appears to be the only larger study of the rise of the LDPR. To be sure, Zhirinovsky has been the topic of several journalistic books and scholarly papers published during the last 20 years. Yet, to my knowledge, no further notable doctoral dissertations have been defended and no profound monograph or collected volume has been published, so far, on post-Soviet Russia’s so-called “liberal democrats.” (The strange name of Zhirinovsky’s party goes back to its origins as a late Soviet “political technology” project designed by the USSR’s last apparatchiks, to subvert Russia’s emerging genuinely liberal-democratic movement of 1990-1991. See my dissertation for more on this). NATO thus financed an investigation into a dangerous political phenomenon that remains, to this date, surprisingly understudied.

Vladimir Putin and Vladimir Zhirinovsky


Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Jean-Marie Le Pen in February 1996 at a Wedding

The NATO grant for this research project has now been instrumentalized, by Junge Welt, not only to denounce me, but to portray the entire list of 142 Eastern Europe experts who signed the appeal “Securing Peace Instead of Rewarding Expansion” as a “NATO network.” This label suggests, in the German context, that the 142 experts’ appeal for a reality-based German policy towards Russia is a pro-American cabal assembled to attack the pacifist intentions of the signees of the earlier letter of 60 prominent German politicians, artists, editors and industry representatives. However, not only is the loopy reference to my almost twenty year-old NATO funding hardly enough to identify a “NATO network.” Junge Welt’s reference to my old grant is also odd in that NATO supported research into an ultra-nationalist, crypto-racist, and openly bellicose Russian political force. It is strange that funding for an investigation into a clearly right-wing extremist scheme for World War III is used by a supposedly left-wing newspaper to attack, in a defamatory way, my colleagues and me, as well as to defend a seemingly pacifist document, i.e. the earlier letter of the 60.

Moreover, a main finding of the project that NATO supported in the mid-nineties is that Zhirinovsky’s ideology should be considered as a permutation of fascism. His plan of Russia’s “last dash to the South,” to be sure, is not neo-Nazi in that it does no refer to the Aryan myth, occult theory or explicitly biological racism. Yet, as I have argued in my dissertation and some publications that grew out of it, his scheme should still be classified as a specifically post-Soviet Russian variety of “palingenetic ultra-nationalism,” i.e. as an empirical phenomenon captured by a famous concept of generic fascism developed by Roger D. Griffin of Oxford Brookes University. The ultra-nationalist palingenesis (new or re-birth) that Zhirinovsky proposes for Russia will come about through her foreign expansion to the South, and subjugation of the “southerners.” Arguably, research into as clearly fascist an ideology as this could have also been supported by a left-wing foundation – not only by NATO. Nevertheless, today Junge Welt is using the fact of NATO’s provision of a grant in 1996 to me, in order to denounce dozens of German academics, activists, and journalists as allegedly belonging to some “NATO network.”

Article edited by Orysia Tracz.

KRYTYKA needs your support: Subscribing to our journal, you support the best in quality intellectual discourse and in-depth social, cultural, and political analysis Ukraine has to offer.

Your subscription or donation will help us remain truly independent!