Boris Bondarev says that the President of Russia Vladimir Putin he could have spent the last two decades “developing the country” but instead turned it “into a kind of total horror, a threat to the world.”
Bondarev would know: He spent his career promoting Putin’s foreign policy.
Bondarev, a mid-level diplomat at Russia’s United Nations mission in Geneva, on Monday became the most prominent Russian official to resign and publicly criticize the war in Ukraine since the February 24 invasion.
Putin chairs a meeting on the country’s transport industry via video link in Sochi, Russia, on May 24, 2022. Sputnik/Mikhail Metzel/Kremlin via REUTERS
While his abrasive message is unlikely to reach most Russians given the state’s dominance of the media, his resignation showed that the discontent lurks in the Russian bureaucracy despite the facade of national unity that the Kremlin has worked hard to create.
“Those who conceived this war want only one thing: to stay in power forever, to live in pompous and insipid palaces, to sail on yachts comparable in tonnage and cost to the entire Russian navy, to enjoy unlimited power and complete impunity,” Bondarev said. in an email to colleagues on Monday morning.
“To achieve that, they are willing to sacrifice as many lives as it takes.”
It was the latest case of unrest in the Russian elite to come to light.
Putin’s climate envoy, Anatoly Chubais, resigned and left the country in March, reportedly due to his opposition to the war, but has not commented publicly.
Several Russian state television journalists have resigned, including an employee who stormed the set of a live news broadcast with an anti-war sign.
And some business leaders have spoken out, including a banking tycoon who said the Kremlin had forced him to liquidate your assets because of his opposition to the war.
But the Kremlin has gone to great lengths to silence such dissent.
On state television, opponents of the war are regularly branded traitors.
A law signed by Putin in March punishes the “false information” about the war, potentially defined as anything that contradicts the government line, with up to 15 years in prison.
Partly as a result, almost no government officials have spoken out against the invasion.
In a telephone interview from Geneva, Bondarev said he felt safer speaking abroad but felt he was in a state of “overall uncertainty” and that he did not know what would happen to him.
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 of several diplomats who had quietly resigned after the war began.
It is impossible to verify that statement.
“There are people, not so few, who think like me,” he said.
“But I think most of them are still enslaved by this propaganda that they receive and, in part, create.”
Bondarev said responsibility for the war goes beyond Putin and includes the Russian Foreign Ministry, where he said he had worked for 20 years.
Russian diplomats, he said, were complicit in making it appear that Putin could achieve an easy victory in Ukraine.
“They were wrong in Ukraine; they were wrong about the West; they basically got everything wrong,” Bondarev said, referring to the Kremlin’s pre-invasion worldview.
“The diplomats of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are also to blame for this, for not passing on the information that we should have, for softening it and presenting it like everything is great”.
Bondarev, part of the team working on arms control and disarmament at the Russian mission in Geneva, said he had seen information misleading cabled to Moscow in recent weeks.
“Instead of presenting their own analysis as objectively as possible along with their suggestions on how to proceed, we often present information that surely you will like“, 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 had delayed because he had unfinished family business and “had to gather my resolve.”
“I just can’t share this anymore. bloody, stupid and absolutely unnecessary ignominyBondarev wrote.
In the interview, he said that he had become disenchanted with Russian government service even before the invasion, “when we weren’t such pariahs yet,” but had stayed because of the decent pay and interesting work trips and the people he met. she met.
Russia’s state media did not immediately report on Bondarev’s resignation, and the Foreign Ministry did not comment as the end of the working day in Moscow approached.
Bondarev, who is listed as an adviser to the Russian mission on the UN website, confirmed his identity in a video call with The New York Times and by sending an image of his diplomatic passport.
Bondarev said that what had disturbed him most at his workplace since the invasion was the indifference with whom some of his fellow Russian diplomats chatted about possible nuclear attacks against the West, even though they worked on arms control.
On Russian state television, commentators have raised the specter of a nuclear conflict with increasing frequency while portraying the fighting in Ukraine as a war. hint of the West against Russia.
“They think that if you hit a town in the United States with a nuclear attack, the Americans will immediately freak out and run on their knees begging for mercy,” Bondarev said, describing his colleagues’ comments.
“That’s what a lot of our people think, and I’m afraid this is the line they’re passing to Moscow.”
He said that when he had suggested to his colleagues that they might not want their children to live in “radioactive ruins”, they had laughed and said “it’s about values”, echoing Putin, who in trying to justify his invasion often described Russia as a fight for “traditional values” against a decadent West.
But Bondarev said Putin’s war was really about the president’s effort to stay in power amid a stagnant economy and growing public discontent, and the lack of an ideology to mobilize the masses.
“How can you stay and hold power, without losing it in the face of such objective difficulties?” she asked.
“We have to invent a war.”
Bondarev said he did not yet have any firm career plans.
In LinkedInafter posting his resignation statement, he wrote: “Job offers welcome.”
Nick Cumming-Bruce contributed reporting from Geneva.
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