Russian ultra-nationalist populist politician, founder and leader of the far-right Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) from 1991. His strong, sometimes bizarre views, advocating the use of nuclear weapons and the restoration of the Russian empire, initially cast him as a lightweight politician. However, his ability to win third place out of six candidates in Russia's first free presidential elections in 1991, and the success of his party in winning nearly 23% of the vote and 15% of the seats in the December 1993 federal assembly elections, forced a reassessment. In the June 1996 presidential elections his support fell to below 6% and he was equally unsuccessful in the 2000 and 2008 presidential elections, although the LDPR did win 12% of the vote in parliamentary elections in 2003.
Born in Alma Ata, now in Kazakhstan, the son of a Polish Jew, he studied law at Moscow State University and worked on state committees and unions during the 1970s and 1980s. In 1991 he set up the LDPR as the country's second officially registered party and as the main opposition party to Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, and supported the abortive conservative attempted coup against Gorbachev in 1991. His complex, unpredictable personality is revealed in his autobiography Last Thrust to the South which has been likened to Hitler's Mein Kampf. He has been seen as a threat to democratic progress in Russia, having ignited fights in Russia's parliament, for anti-semitic statements and his calls to reunite Russia with its ‘lost territories’, including Alaska.