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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rebellion Erupts as Extremists Leave Bloc

Two leading members of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party staged a rebellion against Vladimir Zhirinovsky on Wednesday, saying they were fed up with extremist statements the party leader has made while abroad.

Viktor Kobelev, second on the party's ballot for last December's parliamentary elections, caused an uproar in the State Duma on Wednesday when he announced that he had left the faction with his chief ally, Alexander Pronin.

Kobelev, who managed the slick election campaign that brought a surprise victory to the Liberal Democrats at December's polls, claimed that 70 percent of party members would back his rebellion against the charismatic Zhirinovsky. Shortly after Kobelev's announcement, Zhirinovsky rushed to the microphone and yelled that the two men had not left but "were thrown out of the party for criminal acts, for which they will be prosecuted."

Other "criminals" would also be purged from the party, Zhirinovsky said before storming out of the Duma, surrounded by bodyguards and refusing to answer questions.

The desertions of Kobelev and Pronin could presage a serious split in the Liberal Democratic Party and indicate that even within the ranks of the faithful there is a debate over whether Zhirinovsky's antics will benefit the party in the long term.

In an interview with The Moscow Times, Kobelev accused Zhirinovsky of "extremism" and "interference in the affairs of other countries."

He said that "Zhirinovsky should be censured for all his actions by the party congress, because all his personal actions contradict the program and statutes of the party."

Kobelev said his relationship with Zhirinovsky turned sour shortly after the Dec. 12 elections, because Zhirinovsky had monopolized decision-making and media attention. But he added that Zhirinovsky's extremism was the main reason for his departure. Kobelev denounced Zhirinovsky's open friendship with the German millionaire and neo-fascist leader Gerhard Frey as "politics for the sake of money."

"I don't agree with many of Zhirinovsky's statements, especially abroad, which were not sanctioned by the party," he said. "We never called for interference in the affairs of another country."

Kobelev referred to a relentless stream of outbursts Zhirinovsky has made during trips abroad, including a threat to wage war on the West if it launches air strikes on Serb artillery in Bosnia; another to create a nuclear holocaust in Germany; and another to blockade Japan.

In the few short months since December, Zhirinovsky has been expelled from Bulgaria, was asked to leave Slovenia and denied entry into Germany and France.

Perhaps most ominous for the Liberal Democrats, Kobelev threatened to reveal party secrets.

"I ran the party apparatus for a whole year. I know everything, from A to Z. I'm a very dangerous person," Kobelev said. "I know all about our finances. I ran the whole election campaign."

The Liberal Democrats are believed to have spent some $800,000 on their election campaign, but the source of these funds has remained a mystery.

Asked whether German extremists had financed the election campaign, Kobelev said: "I consider that a party secret, but if Zhirinovsky (continues to insult me) I will reveal that fact as well."

Two leading Liberal Democrats, Alexander Vengerovsky and Sergei Abeltsev, dismissed Kobelev's claim that much of the party was behind him and insisted his departure would not affect it.

But at least one other top faction member openly supported Kobelev's criticism of Zhirinovsky.

"Many agree with Kobelev," said Vyacheslav Marychev, third on the party hierarchy and a vocal admirer of Zhirinovsky. He said many party members felt that Zhirinovsky spent too much time abroad, where he embarrassed the party with rash statements and by being photographed in Slovenia while hugging a man in the sauna.

After Wednesday's scandal in the Duma, the party leadership would question Zhirinovsky on his conflict with Kobelev, Marychev said, although he believed it was highly unlikely that Zhirinovsky would be pushed aside.

Mikhail Lemeshev, a member of the Liberal Democrats' parliament faction, said that the faction had met after Kobelev and Pronin announced their departures and voted to dismiss the two and replace them with two other party members from outside parliament.

That would cause the two men to lose their seats in parliament, but it is not clear that party factions have this power under parliament rules.

Kobelev and Pronin insisted that although they had left the parliament faction, they would remain members of the Liberal Democratic Party.

Andrei Zavidia, who was Zhirinovsky's running mate when he won nearly 6 million votes in the 1991 presidential elections and his deputy until shortly before last December's elections, called Kobelev's departure "the beginning of the end for the party."

Zavidia claimed to know of 13 of the 63 faction members who had already agreed to leave in the next few days.