The man who would be fuhrer

Our 1991 story on Russian ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky (“The Coup: Next Time,” Nov./Dec.) profiled the ambitious and dangerous man whose party had such unexpected success in last December’s elections. The question is, could he become Russia’s next president? Three scenarios could make this possible: 1) mounting tensions between Russia and Ukraine over Crimea, a predominantly Russian region that was shuffled over to Ukraine during the Soviet period. Communists on both sides are backing their respective nationalists. A disruptive conflict would give Zhirinovsky’s extremist alliance, which includes hard-line Communists, a fresh raison d’etre; 2) conflict in the former Yugoslavia could result in increased Western pressure on Serbia, a traditional Russian ally, giving Russia’s conservatives an excuse to demand intervention. Revival of Cold War antagonisms would disrupt Russia’s relations with the international community and sabotage the country’s reform process; 3) Boris Yeltsin’s untimely death–or debilitating illness–could create a power vacuum before his term expires in 1996. Or if Yeltsin’s popularity plummets and he exits before reformers can unite behind a single candidate, Zhirinovsky and his coalition could easily take advantage of the reformers’ disarray.