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Never a Dull Moment in Zhirinovsky's Russia : Europe: Nationalist seeks U.S. visa, paralyzes Parliament. No matter what he says, his ratings remain just high enough that he can't be ignored.


MOSCOW — He destroys Parliament sessions with a single tantrum; pays friendly state visits to North Korea and Iraq; vows to sire children in every Russian province, and now, he may be coming your way.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the ultra-nationalist demagogue who shocked the world with his strong showing in December elections, plans to visit the United States next month, he announced Friday--if, that is, he is granted entry.

His visa request is now being considered by the State Department, but it appears likely that the United States will join France, Germany, Switzerland, Slovenia, Norway and Spain, all of which have denied the motor-mouthed populist entry in the last year.

No matter. Zhirinovsky believes that a visa denial by U.S. authorities would only add to the personal popularity that brought his party top scores in voting last December and continues to hold steady despite his failure to fulfill any of his wild election promises.

"The greater the resistance we meet, the more popularity we will have," he said. "Without such resistance from authorities, we wouldn't have been able to get as far as we have."

Meanwhile, Zhirinovsky is wreaking enough havoc at home to make up for all the scandals he did not have a chance to create abroad.

On Friday, he and his party members walked out of the Duma, the lower house of Parliament, and gathered enough support from other factions to paralyze the body indefinitely just two days into its autumn session.

He also declared that he and his followers will no longer consider themselves signatories to the Civil Accord, a formal pledge to maintain the peace signed by hundreds of parties, groups and unions last spring.

"The cup of patience is overflowing; we have to react," Zhirinovsky, his hair cut super-short to reveal a bullet head sweating freely in the stuffy hall, told reporters at the Duma.

The 48-year-old lawyer's cup apparently overflowed Sunday when he and more than 20 other deputies from his inaptly named Liberal Democratic Party were trying to fly to North Korea to visit its new leader, Kim Jong Il.

According to Zhirinovsky, his plane was supposed to stop for refueling in the Western Siberian city of Kemerovo, but the local governor rolled fuel trucks across the runway, blocking it. At the last minute, Zhirinovsky said, he called off the landing and the plane barely made it to the city of Tomsk, its fuel so low that the deputies faced "mortal danger."

The Russian Transport Ministry is investigating the incident, but Zhirinovsky said a government report will not satisfy him; he called for a change of Cabinet, particularly the resignation of Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, whom he accuses of hampering his travel abroad.

Zhirinovsky has been up to all kinds of shenanigans since he was elected, from fisticuffs with a fellow lawmaker in the Parliament's lunchroom and with a traffic cop on a central Moscow street to wild threats against Japan and Germany.

But, seemingly no matter what comes out of his mouth, Russian polls show that his ratings remain fairly steady, with a core of support that ranges between 5% and 20% of the population--never high enough to give him a shot at the presidency in 1996 but never low enough to laugh off.

The magazine Stolitsa offered a recent analysis of Zhirinovsky's appeal, saying his aggressive stance reflects "a sublimated feeling of fear, the kind of fear that gives one a sense of loneliness and defenselessness in a hostile world. And these days, the majority of Russians share this sense."

A survey by the Mneniye polling service in July showed that, if elections were held now, President Boris N. Yeltsin would garner about 11% of the vote, followed by economist Grigory Yavlinsky with 9% and former Vice President Alexander V. Rutskoi with 7%. Zhirinovsky would come in fourth with about 6%, close to his performance in the 1991 presidential elections.

Although he may not be a contender, his corps of angry-young-man followers, his support among the dispossessed and his ability to foment a perpetual brouhaha keep other Russian politicians watching him warily.

"Zhirinovsky is a serious phenomenon from any point of view," Communist leader Gennady A. Zyuganov said. "I think he has gained popularity as the situation in the country gets worse and worse."

"His current position is no less firm than it was on Dec. 12," concurred Lev Ponomaryov, a prominent member of the reformist Russia's Choice. "Yes, he is a force. To ignore him would be a mistake."

He is a force, and he may be multiplying. Already the father of one son, Zhirinovsky proposed last month that he sire children in every region of Russia as his contribution to stopping the country's negative population growth.

In 1995, according to the Liberal Democratic Party press service, Zhirinovsky wants every region to "witness the birth of at least one baby directly from the chairman of the LDP" in order to counter the "disastrous demographic situation."

Zhirinovsky has yet to clarify whether he plans to found his own sperm bank or visit each of the regions in person.

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