Soviet Active Measures in The
'Post-Cold War' Era 1988-1991

Internal Front Groups:
Vladimir Zhirinovsky and
The "Centrist Bloc"

One of the most striking initiatives of the CPSU under Gorbachev was its willingness to permit a multiparty system in the USSR, a move that quickly led to the demise of the CPSU when Soviet citizens were able to choose among alternative parties. This is not the outcome the Soviet leaders presumably wished, however. They stated on numerous occasions that they wanted the CPSU to be invigorated by competition with democratic groups, but it is doubtful that they wanted it to be challenged to the extent that it lost its power.

In the attempt to maintain CPSU control while still allowing the trappings of a democratic system, the CPSU used active measures techniques to form bogus parties that were themselves front groups for the CPSU. It then attempted to make a show of "sharing power" with these bogus parties, using them as its supposedly "democratic partners" in a ploy aimed at denying power to the authentically democratic parties that were genuinely popular with the Soviet electorate. The so-called Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) headed by Vladimir Zhirinovsky and the so-called "Centrist Bloc" of parties that united under its leadership were key elements in this ultimately unsuccessful strategy of deception and manipulation.

In February 1990, the CPSU took a major step toward multiparty politics, when it decided that it would relinquish its constitutional monopoly in power, an event that formally transpired in March. A few weeks after this, the founding congress of the Liberal Democratic Party was held, an event that was announced on the front pages of all major Soviet newspapers on April 1, 1990, in marked contrast to the scant media attention that had accompanied the prior foundings of other parties.

The chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party was Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who, in contrast to the leaders of the other parties, was a political unknown. A journalist familiar with his background termed Zhirinovsky's appearance on the political scene "an April Fools' joke." He wrote in the July 17, 1990 issue of Komsomolets Uzbekistana:

It seems that somebody was desperate to show - following the relevant decisions of the CPSU CC and the USSR Supreme Soviet - how fast political pluralism has developed in the Soviet Union. At the same time, they do not want to advertize the real competitors of the CPSU. Therefore, the bubble of the Liberal Democratic Party was inflated.

In June 1990, the LDP and 20 other small parties joined together to form a coalition called the "Centrist Bloc." Radio Liberty research analyst Julia Wishnevsky's description of this development, in the November 23, 1990 issue of Radio Liberty's Report on the USSR, shows that it included several of the manipulative techniques characteristic of Soviet front group operations:

With one exception, all the other parties involved were completely unknown to the public. Since, however, some of them bore names suspiciously similar to those of established parties, this ploy was bound to confuse the unwary. Two parties - one called the Democratic Party, and the other the Russian Democratic Party - joined the Centrist Bloc, but neither had any connection with the Democratic Party of Russia led by Travkin and Kasparov (a genuine party].

In a further indication that this was an active measures operation, the founding of the Centrist Bloc was announced at a session of the Soviet Peace Committee, one of the major internal Soviet front groups.

The Centrist Bloc included parties with impressive sounding, seemingly liberal names such as the Andrei Sakharov Union of Democratic Forces, the Peace Party, the Conservative Party, the People's Constitutional Party, the Russian Popular Front, and the League of Independent Scientists of the USSR. These inspiring names often disguised unsavory characters, however.

For example, according to issue number 45 of Moscow News in 1990, the head of the Andrei Sakharov Union of Democratic Forces, Vladimir Voronin, was hardly a liberal. He had written a dissertation on "U.S. Psychological War" and had been arrested in 1976 for misappropriating state funds. Andrei Sakharov's widow, Yelena Bonner, denounced the use of her husband's name by this group.

Ominously, one of the member organizations of the Centrist Bloc was Soyuz, the hard-line group of People's Deputies in the USSR Supreme Soviet founded by reactionaries Viktor Alksnis and Nikolai Petrushenko, who were active in late 1990 in spreading disinformation about an alleged CIA plot to dismember the USSR by setting up a so-called Black Sea-Baltic Sea confederation. The inclusion of Soyuz in the Centrist Bloc was an indication of its true nature.

In October 1990, Zhirinovsky made the revealing statement that he considered the CPSU to be the Liberal Democratic Party's best ally. Shortly after, some LDP members accused Zhirinovsky of being a KGB agent and tried to expel him from the party but failed. In this regard, Moscow News, issue number 45 of 1990, reported:

It is maintained that while a student of the Law Department at Moscow University, Zhirinovsky faced an inquiry into currency speculation. He was exonerated when he agreed to work for the KGB.

After being carefully groomed and politically positioned as supposed "liberals" and "centrists," the LDP and the Centrist Bloc suddenly moved from the periphery to the center stage of Soviet political life in late 1990. On October 29, 1990, the leaders of the Centrist Bloc met with then-Soviet Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov to discuss the formation of a "coalition government of national accord" with the CPSU. This was absolutely unprecedented. The CPSU had not shared any power with other parties since the earliest days following the 1917 revolution. Now, it appeared to be taking a revolutionary step toward sharing power.

Shrewd observers of the Soviet political scene were quick to see through the ploy, however. Moscow News analyst Len Karpinsky, in his article "Coalition or Collusion?" in issue number 45 of 1990, characterized this event as the CPSU's attempt to mount a "political coup." He stated:

Have you heard the news? At a confidential meeting between the government and an obscure group of unofficials, the possibility of forming a coalition government on a multiparty basis was discussed.

What is it? Another farce or a serious event concealing its purposes behind a farcical mask?

... a so-called Centrist bloc has been singled out from the entire gamut of democratic parties and movements to make it responsible for all democrats.

A coalition government set up democratically could promise headway. A coalition arranged behind the closed doors of the former cabinet head's office, even with the assistance of extras from the democratic public, can promise nothing but political coup.

Instead of preparing to genuinely share power, the CPSU was only going through the motions of this process, choosing as its coalition partner not a genuine democratic party but a front group set up by the CPSU and KGB. If this ploy had worked, the CPSU could have claimed to have relinquished its monopoly on power in the USSR and to be ruling as part of a coalition formed with supposedly democratic elements. It was an audacious scheme.

By this time, in late 1990, the hard-liners had the political momentum in the USSR, in alliance with Gorbachev, and events began to move very quickly. The supposedly independent but, in reality, covertly controlled Centrist Bloc was assigned a key role in this sequence of events as a "cut out." It floated proposals that the CPSU wished to put forward, so the CPSU could then respond positively, as scripted, to these supposedly ".democratic initiatives."

For example, in late November 1990, the spokesmen for two Centrist Bloc parties called for the imposition of presidential rule in the USSR and asked "the armed forces, the KGB, and the MVD [Ministry of Internal Affairs] to take control of all critical points" in the country. Zhirinovsky proposed that "from January 1, 1991, the activities of all political parties and organizations be halted, and the rights of nations to self-government, which was proclaimed in 1917, be repudiated."

On December 5, 1990, the Centrist Bloc announced that it was setting up a National Salvation Committee. It called for the imposition of a state of emergency in the USSR, a ban on all parties and movements, and for local Soviet authorities to be replaced by branches of the National Salvation Committee. These suggestions foreshadowed the steps that were taken by CPSU hard-liners in their abortive coup attempt eight months later. The Centrist Bloc also demanded that the parliaments of Russia, Georgia, Lithuania, and Moldova be disbanded.

TASS reported that "the program surprised journalists and even some members of the Bloc, who were already disagreeing with some provisions during the press conference."

The Centrist Bloc's call for the formation of a "National Salvation Committee" and a state of emergency appears to have been part of a carefully orchestrated sequence of events. At this same time, the liberal head of the MVD, Vadim Bakatin, was forced to resign and was replaced by Boris Pugo, who later emerged as one of the eight members of the hard-line August 1991 attempted coup. On December 11, six days after the Centrist Bloc's call for a state of emergency, KGB Chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov addressed the nation on Moscow television, noting that he was "speaking on the instructions of the USSR president." Kryuchkov gave an extremely hard-line speech, in which he claimed that "foreign special services," "organized crime," "dealers of the shadow economy," and unnamed forces that he claimed were "whipping up ... national chauvinism" and "provoking ... mass disturbances and violence" were joining together to "ultimately undermine our society and our state and to liquidate Soviet power." "The threat of the collapse of the Soviet Union has emerged," Kryuchkov warned, and "a keen struggle has developed" around "the issue of power." The KGB chairman vowed to defend the Soviet order against all internal and external attacks and called on "all honest citizens" to aid it in unmasking such threats. Kryuchkov's speech was a throwback to the rhetoric of the days of Stalin. A few days later, on December 20, Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze resigned, warning that dictatorship was approaching.

Several weeks later, in January 1991, in line with the stated wishes of the Centrist Bloc, "National Salvation Committees" were formed in Lithuania and Latvia and moved to take power. These allegedly spontaneous actions by supposedly independent, ad-hoc organizations won immediate support from the Soviet central authorities. Special KGB, MVD, and Ministry of Defense forces seized facilities from the local authorities, killing 18 innocent people and wounding almost 600 in the process.

In late January 1991, the C PSU role in orchestrating events in the Baltics was revealed when the newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta published an August 29, 1990 secret resolution of the CPSU CC Secretariat on the subject of Lithuania. It called for communists in high positions in law enforcement organs in Lithuania to organize criminal and administrative prosecution of "leaders of ... nationalistic and anti-Soviet political formations" in Lithuania. In order to aid in this, a KGB military group was assigned to work with the pro-Moscow faction of the Lithuanian communist party.

For reasons that are unclear, the plan to stop the democratic process in the Baltics and institute dictatorial power in the name of phony "National Salvation Committees" never came to fruition. Colonel Viktor Alksnis, known as the "black colonel" for his reactionary views, later claimed that Gorbachev had approved the orchestrated "National Salvation Committee" coups in the Baltics but failed to follow through because he lost his nerve. By April 1991, Gorbachev was again making common cause with liberal communists such as Alexander Yakovlev. The Centrist Bloc itself stopped functioning at the end of March 1991, according to an April 21, 1991 broadcast of Radio Rossiya. It apparently no longer served the CPSU's purposes. Zhirinovsky then ran for president of the Russian federation in June, and stunned observers by finishing third after Yeltsin and former Prime Minister Ryzhkov, with 6 million votes - 8 percent of the votes cast. A key plank in his electoral platform was his pledge that, if elected, he would sell vodka "at every corner, around the clock, and without any interruptions." Radio Liberty's Report on the USSR of January 24, 1992 cited unconfirmed reports that KGB employees had been instructed to vote for Zhirinovsky.

In July 1991, Zhirinovsky told Novosti that he was forming a "third force" centered around the LDP to challenge Gorbachev in the 1992 elections for the USSR presidency. He also stated, intriguingly in light of subsequent events, that at the beginning of August 1991 a new powerful movement, combining the LDP, Soyuz, and similar organizations, would be founded and joined by millions of people. Zhirinovsky stated that the new movement would distance itself from communists and even more from democrats.

In August, of course, communist hard-liners tried to seize power in the name of the State Committee for the State of Emergency. Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party was the only. political party to publicly support the coup, and it was subsequently banned by Yeltsin for this action. Despite this setback, Zhirinovsky brazenly continued to call for the imposition of emergency measures, the establishment of a new State Committee for the State of Emergency, the closure of all newspapers, and the disbanding of all political parties.

In December 1991, as the USSR was collapsing, the phony nature of Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party was officially confirmed. On December 25, Alexander Kichikhin, an expert from the Russian parliamentary commission investigating the August coup, stated that the LDP had no local branches, as it had claimed, and that, in fact, its membership did not exceed 500 to 600 people. Kichikhin stated that the list of 5,300 signatures appealing for the LDP's registration had been forged. He also stated, according to the TASS account:

the CPSU actively supported and financed the LDP. Special Purpose Militia Detachment subunits guarded the LDP leader on his trips. Links have been established between Vladimir Zhirinovsky and the former USSR KGB leader Vladimir Kryuchkov. According to Kichikhin, when Zhirinovsky would arrive in a town he would first meet with KGB staffers and make use of their services. This makes it possible to conclude, Alexander Kichikhin said, that the LDP is not an autonomous political party, "but sort of a wing of the CPSU."

Thus, multiparty democracy as the Soviet leaders envisaged it was to have the KGB create bogus front groups that could pose as noncommunists, enabling the CPSU leaders to join with them in a phony coalition government, while excluding genuine democratic parties. This elaborate scheme failed miserably, however, when Gorbachev apparently withdrew his support for it after the bloodshed in the Baltics in January 1991.

After the failed August coup and the collapse of the USSR, Zhirinovsky continued to posture and plot on the Russian political scene. His extreme nationalistic rhetoric grew increasingly shrill. On December 30, 1991, the Washington Post reported his speech before a Moscow crowd:

Zhirinovsky went on and on for hours, claiming that when he finally gained power he would invade Afghanistan and make it a Russian "province." He would sell off western Ukraine to Poland and take the rest for Russia. He would fill the universe with "space weapons" pointed at the United States.

"I'll bury radioactive waste along the Lithuanian border and blow the stuff across the border at night," he said. "They'll get radiation sickness and die of it. When they either die or get down on their knees, then I'll stop it. I'm a dictator. What I am going to do is bad, but it is good for Russia!"

In March 1992, Zhirinovsky told Armenia's Armenpress "we must immediately begin a siege on Georgia and Armenia, strangle every moving thing there, impose Moscow's rule, and sign a treaty with Turkey declaring that region as a passageway for Russia."

In December 1991, Zhirinovsky joined Viktor Alksnis, Alexander Nevzorov, and other hard-liners to form a group called "Ours." The group took its name from a television program of the same name made by Nevzorov in January 1991, in which he made the outrageous disinformation claim that the people who had been killed by Soviet forces in the assault on the television tower in Lithuania were actually victims of heart attacks and traffic accidents. This new organization will presumably do its best to push its views by all means possible on the Russian political scene.

(For more information and analysis on Zhirinovsky, the Liberal Democratic Party, and the Centrist Bloc, see these excellent articles, from which much of the preceding material was drawn: "Multiparty System, Soviet Style" by Julia Wishnevsky in the November 23, 1990 issue of Report on the USSR, "The Leadership of the Centrist Bloc," by John Dunlop in the February 8, 1991 issue of Report on the USSR, and "Is Russia Likely to Turn to Authoritarian Rule?" by Vera Tolz and Elizabeth Teague in the January 24, 1992 issue of Report on the USSR.)

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