20 years under Putin: a timeline


Our next clip features Vladimir Zhirinovsky's speech in the State Duma on September 17, 1999. On that day, Zhirinovsky was denied the right to speak because, in an emotional outburst and probably without meaning to do so, he revealed a state secret. Below is a transcript of what can be heard in a video of the State Duma's plenary morning session:

G.N. Seleznyov, speaker of the State Duma: ... Please, let's hear the party caucuses' views on how to deal with today's question. Vladimir Volfovich, please. 

V.V. Zhirinovsky, leader of the Russian Liberal Democratic Party caucus: I think that the absence of the person who posed the question [to summon ministers to the Duma] underscores the fact that the question is unnecessary. It is superfluous. Leave our ministers in peace today. Look at what's happening in our country! Do you remember, Gennady Nikolaevich, you told us on Monday [September 13] that a house in Volgodonsk had been blown up, three days before the explosion [on September 16]. That can be interpreted as a provocation: if the State Duma knows that a house has been blown up allegedly on a Monday, and it is actually blown up on a Thursday. And we were dealing with quite different matters at the time. Let us deal with this matter, rather. How did it happen: they report to you that at 11 a.m. a house was blown up, but the Rostov regional administration was not aware that you had been informed about it? Everyone goes to sleep, three days later there’s an explosion, and then they start to take measures. 

Yesterday you spoke very well about the change of Transneft’s management, and now the workers in Krasnoyarsk are fighting off the same OMON troops as Lebed attempts to seize a plant that was privatized a long time ago. Let’s not have a double standard! If you are interested in Transneft…. 

Zhirinovsky says something else, but his exact words are either inaudible or unintelligible because Seleznyov interrupts him, seizes the initiative and switches off Zhirinovsky’s microphone. Indeed, Seleznyov links Zhirinovsky's statement to the issue of "lawlessness," not to the blowing up of buildings:

Seleznyov: Vladimir Volfovich, you and I should be interested in everything. Where lawlessness reigns, we have to intervene.

Zhirinovsky: Let's take this issue off the table. 

Zhirinovsky means the issue of summoning the ministers, naturally, and not the explosion in Volgodonsk.

Seleznyov: Yes, fine, I understand your caucus’ position.

Other deputies speak about different topics that have no relation to the terrorist bombings (although they are the only topic on everyone's mind in Russia during those days). Then Zhirinovsky again gets a chance to speak and again raises the issue of Volgodonsk:

Zhirinovsky: Gennady Nikolaevich, I think that, in any event, our committees, our deputies, must themselves react to the situation, without being reminded. Look at what happened in Volgodonsk—where are the six deputies from the Communist Party caucus? They ought to go there and help out, especially if the local authorities there are asleep and waiting. Since we in Moscow knew about the explosion three days beforehand, while they just woke up when the explosion happened. That's no way to work, Gennady Nikolaevich, no way to work.

Zhirinovsky goes on to discuss other questions, but a heated argument erupts, in which no one mentions the blowing up of apartment buildings in Volgodonsk at all, as if Zhirinovsky had never even mentioned Volgodonsk.

Zhirinovsky: This is atrocious, Deputy Zelenov. We will try to defeat you in your district. You and Lotyryov. We'll do all we can, so that neither of you will continue to be deputies of the State Duma.

Seleznyov: Colleagues, let's stick to our subject. 

Seleznyov does not have time to finish.

Zhirinovsky: Bums.

Seleznyov: Quiet, quiet.

The transcript of the State Duma session does not contain this angry exchange, although it undoubtedly would have been of interest to both contemporaries and posterity.

Vladimir Volfovich is not a politician whom one feels inspired to defend. His boorishness, bluster, and penchant for pulling women's hair have relegated him to the ranks of those whose hand one would not shake. But in this instance we are compelled to come to Zhirinovsky's defense, since Deputy Lotyryov was the one who first provoked him when he suggested that Zhirinovsky should be put up against a wall and shot.

A.N. Lotyryov: This would-be colonel, this sham whose last name is Zhirinovsky, is the greatest enemy of the Russian army. These are certain kinds of colonels who should be put up against a wall and shot. When his son is serving there, or when our children are serving there. Mine is serving his second year of compulsory service, training to become an officer to defend this scoundrel.

Seleznyov: All right, Alexander Nikolaevich, that's enough. (Zhirinovsky shouts something in response. Lotyryov also shouts, but one can make out only isolated words, especially since the participants in the argument interrupt one another.) 

Lotyryov: Fascist, fascist. 

Zhirinovsky: Get the hell out of here. 

Seleznyov: Quiet, quiet. 

Zhirinovsky: Jerk. 

Seleznyov: Esteemed colleagues, I sense that at the end of our session, we'll have to pass a law on establishing the office of sergeants-at-arms to keep order in the Duma. Vladimir Volfovich, Vladimir Volfovich, calm down. 

Lotyryov throws a folder at Zhirinovsky, which hits him, without, however, causing him significant harm.

Seleznyov: Alexander Nikolaevich!

Zhirinovsky: Here, look, "sham colonel," "fascist." Jerk!

Seleznyov: Svetlana Petrovna, please, Goryacheva. (Zhirinovsky is still shouting. Lotyryov is also shouting. What they are shouting at one another is not entirely clear.)

S.P. Goryacheva: Esteemed deputies! I ask you to vote to deprive Vladimir Volfovich Zhirinovsky of the right to speak for one month. We don't need to hear any more of these tantrums. Please, put it up to a vote.

Seleznyov: Who is in favor of depriving Vladimir Volfovich Zhirinovsky of the right to speak for one month? Please vote. 

Zhirinovsky: He called me a fascist, and I have to be deprived of the right to speak for a month!

Seleznyov: Quiet, quiet. 

A voice, apparently Zhirinovsky's: Gennady Nikolaevich, we're going to deprive you of the right to speak.

Seleznyov: Show the results. 

The tableau displays the voting results: 287 votes for, 0 against, 0 abstaining.

Seleznyov: The resolution is passed.

Zhirinovsky: You see, look at your double standard. 

Seleznyov: Vladimir Volfovich, you are denied the right to speak.

One should note that no one denied Lotyryov the right to speak, although, as can be seen from the video, it was he who initiated the argument and was far more culpable than Zhirinovsky by virtue of demanding that Zhirinovsky be put up against the wall and shot.

Equally noteworthy is the Duma's vote to impose sanctions on Zhirinovsky: the tableau shows that the deputies have voted unanimously, although Zhirinovsky himself cannot have voted to deny himself the right to speak (the caucus faction was boycotting the Duma session in protest). Why, then, is the Duma in such a rush to deprive Zhirinovsky of the right to speak, and for a whole month?

One must recall the sequence of events. On September 4, 1999, an apartment building was blown up in Buynaksk; on September 8, an apartment building in Moscow, on Guryanov St.; on September 13 at 5 a.m., an apartment building in Moscow, on Kashirskoye Highway. On the same day, September 13, there is a meeting of the State Duma, with Seleznyov presiding. Notice the speakers' somber tone, which is more than justified since three apartment buildings in the country have just been blown up.

Seleznyov: Esteemed colleagues! Today in Russia is a day of mourning! Let us start our meeting by honoring the memory of all those killed in Dagestan and Moscow. (A minute of silence) 

Please, sit down. 

As you can see, the agenda for the meeting, the first in this session, is enormous. But I think that now we will have to have an exchange of opinions concerning [the schedule for] tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. Evidently we shall have to make certain corrections to the scheduling previously proposed. As you can see, the first day envisages the consideration of the legislative program for this session. 

But I think that now we will have an exchange of opinions on what corrections to make, how in general to structure tomorrow’s meeting of the State Duma. It will be necessary, of course, to hear about the situation in Dagestan and the terrorist attacks in Moscow. We shall have to decide about the time. The head of government will be here only tomorrow at two o’clock. His plane has taken off, but it’s a day’s journey from there and an eight hour time difference. I have spoken with his staff and they told me that they are meeting him tomorrow at 2 p.m. 

And so now let us have an exchange of opinions. […] Here is another piece of information. It is reported from Rostov-on-Don that tonight a residential house was blown up in the town of Volgodonsk. 

Zhirinovsky: And there is a nuclear power station in Volgodonsk. 

S. V. Ivanenko: Of course, it is absolutely impossible to put it off, to show such cowardice in this situation, and I cannot call it anything else. It is simply indecent for a country that is at war and for authorities who must respond to the needs of the moment. 

Concerning the issue of responsibility I wish to say to Mr. Zhirinovsky that instead of talking nonsense he should have voted for impeachment --- for impeachment on account of Chechnya. (Noise in the hall)

As for tomorrow’s session, I believe it is essential to plan that from 10 a.m. till 2 p.m. there will be a discussion of the situation in the North Caucasus and the terrorist attacks in the Russian Federation. It seems to me that on this issue we can hear information from the Minister of Defense, the Minister of the Interior, and the Director of the FSB, and have an exchange of opinions. The leaders of the caucuses will speak. Without determining beforehand what documents we are going to adopt.  At this stage it is too early to say whether we can do anything substantive. If we manage to draft a good resolution, then good, then we’ll pass it tomorrow. If we don’t, then we don’t. 

Seleznyov: I would like to listen to the chairmen of the committees for defense and security. Roman Semenovich, please. 

R. S. Polkovich: Esteemed colleagues, the first thing I wish to say is earnestly to request all the caucus leaders and everyone else, when we discuss the situation in Dagestan and so forth, to take a very carefully considered approach to what you are going to say. In Dagestan, the soldiers and everyone else are afraid that in our debates we will not focus on the basic questions:  what should we do there; how can we put an end to this conflict so that we can return to task of improving relations with each other.

The report about the explosion in Volgodonsk turns out to be a mistake. The country is still in a state of shock and mourning, when on September 16 a terrorist attack does indeed take place in Volgodonsk and another apartment building is blown up. It is difficult even to imagine what must now be happening in the State Duma, with a fourth building being added to the three already blown up. But something unforeseen happens: the State Duma, at its next meeting, does not mention the terrorist attacks at all, as if they did not happen, until this topic is brought up by Zhirinovsky, who, as we already know, is on the same day denied the right to speak for one month. Meanwhile, the story that was fed to the press was that, in his announcement on September 13, Seleznyov was referring not to the blowing up of a building in Volgodonsk, but to an incident involving a grenade explosion in a residential apartment in the city, during which three random passers-by were hurt.

During the following weeks (while Zhirinovsky remained silent), there was a failed attempt to blow up a building in Ryazan and a second, full-scale war was launched in the Chechen Republic. It would be interesting to know what Zhirinovsky would have said from the podium of the Duma on September 23 in connection with the "instruction drill" conducted in Ryazan by the FSB—if he had an opportunity to speak.