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Boris Bondarev, a Russian diplomat, speaks out on the war


Boris Bondarev says Russian President Vladimir V. Putin could have spent the past two decades “developing the country” but instead turned it “into a kind of utter horror, a threat to the world”.

Mr. Bondarev would know: he has spent his career promoting Mr. Putin’s foreign policy.

A mid-level diplomat at Russia’s United Nations mission in Geneva, Bondarev on Monday became the most high-profile Russian official to resign and publicly criticize the war in Ukraine since the Feb. 24 invasion.

While his searing message was unlikely to reach most Russians given the state’s dominance of the media, his resignation showed that discontent lurks in the Russian administration despite the facade of national unity that the Kremlin worked hard to create.

“Those who engineered this war want only one thing: to stay in power forever, to live in pompous and tasteless palaces, to sail on yachts comparable in tonnage and cost to the entire Russian Navy, to enjoy unlimited power and total impunity,” Bondarev said in an email to colleagues on Monday morning. “To achieve this, they are ready to sacrifice as many lives as it takes.”

In a telephone interview from Geneva, Mr Bondarev said responsibility for the war went beyond Mr Putin and included the Russian Foreign Ministry, where he said he worked for 20 years. Russian diplomats, he said, were complicit in giving the impression that Mr Putin could score an easy victory in Ukraine.

“They got Ukraine wrong, they got the West wrong, they basically got everything wrong,” Bondarev said, referring to the Kremlin’s pre-invasion worldview. “We Foreign Office diplomats are also guilty of this, of not passing on the information we should have – of smoothing it over and presenting it as if everything is fine.”

Mr Bondarev, who is part of the team working on arms control and disarmament at the Russian mission in Geneva, said he had seen misleading information cabled into Moscow in recent weeks.

“Instead of presenting your own analysis as objectively as possible with your suggestions on how to proceed, we often presented information that was certain to be appreciated,” he said. “That was the main criteria.”

In his email to colleagues, he said he “should have resigned at least three months ago” when Russia invaded, but delayed because he had unfinished family business and “had to muster my resolve”.

In the interview, he said he had become disenchanted with Russian government service even before the invasion, “when we weren’t such pariahs yet”, but stayed because of the living wage and interesting work trips and people he met.

He said that while he believed he was in the minority among Russian diplomats for opposing the war, he was not alone. He said he knew several diplomats who quietly resigned after the war began. It was impossible to verify this claim.

“There are people – not so few – who think like me,” he said. “But most, I think, are still in the grip of this propaganda that they receive and partly create.”

Russian state media did not immediately report on Mr Bondarev’s resignation, and the Foreign Ministry offered no comment as the end of the working day in Moscow approached. Mr Bondarev, who is listed as an adviser to the Russian mission on the United Nations website, confirmed his identity in a video call with The New York Times and by sending an image of his diplomatic passport.

Mr Bondarev said what had bothered him the most in his workplace since the invasion was the nonchalance with which some of his fellow Russian diplomats talked about possible nuclear strikes against the West – even if they worked in arms control. On Russian state television, commentators increasingly raised the specter of nuclear conflict while casting the fighting in Ukraine as a proxy war by the West against Russia.

“They think if you hit a village in America with a nuclear strike, then Americans will immediately be scared and run on their knees to beg for mercy,” Mr Bondarev said, describing his colleagues’ comments. “That’s what many of our fellow citizens think, and I’m afraid that’s the line they carry to Moscow.”

He said that when he suggested to his colleagues that maybe they didn’t want their children to live in ‘radioactive ruins’, they laughed and laughed and said ‘it’s about values’ – making echoing Mr. Putin, who in trying to justify his invasion often described Russia as fighting for “traditional values” against a decadent West.

But Mr Bondarev said Mr Putin’s war was really about the president’s efforts to stay in power amid a stagnant economy and growing public discontent, and a lack of ideology to mobilize people. masses.

“How can you stay and retain power, without losing it in the face of such objective difficulties? He asked. “We have to invent a war.

Mr Bondarev said he does not yet have a firm career plan. On LinkedIn, after posting his resignation statement, he wrote, “Job offers are welcome.”

Nick Cumming-Bruce contributed reporting from Geneva.

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