MOSCOW, Jan. 28 (JTA) — Russia’s unpredictable ultranationalist leader has announced that he’s realized his biggest mistake: He learned too late about the importance of positive relations with his country’s Jewish community. Jews “have the press and money in their hands,” said Vladimir Zhirinovsky. “We should have become close friends earlier. Jews should be won over by caresses.” Zhirinovsky, the flamboyant leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, added that whenever he sees Jews, he tries to kiss them, hug them, invite them to a sauna and do whatever it takes so that they feel that his party, the Liberal Democrats, has never supported anti-Semitism. Zhirinovsky made these comments to journalists in France, where he was attending a session of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, to which he belongs. Lord Russel Johnston, the body’s new chairman, said Zhirinovsky is always “hard to understand.” While Zhirinovsky, 53, maintains that his party is not anti-Semitic, several of his previous statements, which have drawn strong international condemnation, have lead others to the opposite conclusion. Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party is the third largest faction in the Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, where it holds 51 of the body’s 450 seats. Rumors have circulated for years that Zhirinovsky’s anti-Semitism is a response to his own alleged Jewish background — his father had a Jewish-sounding name. Amid the uproar caused by anti-Jewish remarks by prominent Communist Duma members last fall, Zhirinovsky sided with those who condemned anti-Semitic lawmakers. Last November, he delivered a speech at the Duma that was labeled by some Communist lawmakers as “pro-Zionist” and “pro-Jewish.” Also this week, Zhirinovsky confirmed his plans to run for governor of the eastern Russian region of Sverdlovsk, the home of Russian President Boris Yeltsin. He also said he will take part in gubernatorial elections this summer and then run for the presidency in 2000 as “Russia’s most effective governor.” Other candidates for the seat include Arkady Chernetsky, the Jewish mayor of the region’s capital, Yekaterinburg, and incumbent Governor Eduard Rossel.