MOSCOW -- The United States approved a visa yesterday for ultranationalist Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky, astonishing some Russians who thought America was treating an extremist courteously while abusing ordinary citizens.
Mr. Zhirinovsky, whose remarks against Jews and several nationalities have led to his being banned from some European countries, has obtained a visa at a time when many Russians are complaining about the visa process at the U.S. Embassy.
"This is a total loss of a sense of reality on behalf of American authorities," Valery Senderov, a former dissident and human rights activist, said last night. "It is dangerous to give points to this politician, and America gives him those points with this visa. This is extremely dangerous for all of us, for Russia, America and the world."
Russians complain that U.S. consular officials are rude and insensitive, treating them like potential criminals and slamming the door in their faces when they try to press their cases.
The decision on Mr. Zhirinovsky's visa reportedly was made personally by Warren M. Christopher, the U.S. secretary of state.
In Washington, the State Department said the decision to grant Mr. Zhirinovsky a visa "neither endorses his views nor supports his ambitions. The United States government finds his views anathema."
Mr. Zhirinovsky is to speak Monday before the World Affairs Council of San Francisco. David Fischer, president of the council, said it decided to be the host for a speech by Mr. Zhirinovsky after a supporter organizing his American trip approached the council. He said allowing Mr. Zhirinovsky to speak did not constitute endorsing his views.
A State Department spokesman said he did not know Mr. Zhirinovsky's itinerary, although aides to Mr. Zhirinovsky said that he hopes to visit New York, Los Angeles and Washington.
The National Conference on Soviet Jewry criticized the visa decision, saying that Mr. Zhirinovsky was being given a platform to expound a racist and anti-Semitic message.
In Moscow, the visa process and the U.S. Embassy have been besieged with complaints.
U.S. Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering has defended the consulate as overworked, processing on average 550 applications a day and issuing 450 visas. He said officials have to be cautious because 15 percent to 20 percent of Russians granted temporary visas remain illegally in the United States.
On Oct. 21, Sergei A. Kovalyov a widely respected member of parliament and a former dissident, picketed the U.S. Embassy because Georgy Grigorenko, the son of Pyotr Grigorenko, a dissident KGB general, was denied a visa to visit his dying stepmother in the United States, where the general had found sanctuary a generation ago after being expelled from the Soviet Union.
The visa, as it turned out, was issued before Mr. Kovalyov began picketing. Yesterday, he published an open letter to Mr. Pickering in the newspaper Izvestia, headlined: "American Consulate Continues the Policy of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union."
Mr. Kovalyov wrote that Mr. Grigorenko was refused a visa because he failed to show sufficient proof that he would return to Russia, even though his work and family are here.
"He was urgently asked by his brother (who lives in the U.S.) to say farewell to his dying stepmother," Mr. Kovalyov wrote.
When the visa was denied in mid-October, Mr. Kovalyov said, he tried for two days to reach the U.S. consul general.
"Finally, one of her colleagues condescended to speak to me," he said. The official, Mr. Kovalyov asserted, said the United States could give visas to whomever it wanted. And if they chose not to, not even the president of Russia could get one.
"He told me I was wasting his time," Mr. Kovalyov wrote.