Boris Bondarev, a Russian Diplomat, Speaks Out on the War

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

Mr. Bondarev will know: He has spent his career promoting Putin’s foreign policy.

A mid-level diplomat at Russia’s United Nations mission in Geneva, Mr. Bondarev on Monday became the most famous Russian official to resign and openly criticized the war in Ukraine since the February 24 invasion.

Although his hot message is unlikely to reach most Russians due to the state’s domination of the media, his resignation shows the discontent that still lurks among the Russian official in spite of the face of the media. national unity that the Kremlin has worked so hard to create.

Bondarev said in an email to colleagues on Monday morning. “To achieve that, they are willing to sacrifice as many lives as they can.”

It was the latest example of unrest among Russia’s elite to appear in the public eye. Putin’s climate envoy, Anatoly Chubais, resign and leave the country in March, allegedly for opposing the war, but he has not commented publicly. Several journalists of Russian state television have quit, including one employee who stormed the studio of a live news broadcast with an anti-war poster. And a number of business leaders have spoken out, including bank magnate who said the Kremlin forced him into a arson trade his property for opposing the war.

But the Kremlin has gone to great lengths to silence such dissidents. On state television, the war’s opponents are often seen as traitors. A law signed by Putin in March punishes “disinformation” about the war – potentially defined as anything that contradicts government lines – with sentences of up to 15 years in prison. . As a result, no government officials spoke out against the invasion.

In a phone interview from Geneva, Mr Bondarev said he felt safer speaking abroad, but he felt he was in a state of “complete uncertainty” and did not know what would happen next. happen to me.

He said that although he believes he is in the minority among Russian diplomats because of his opposition to the war, he is not alone. He said he knew of several diplomats who quietly resigned after the war began. That claim could not be verified.

“There are people – not too few – who think the same way I do,” he said. “But I think most are still in the grip of this propaganda that they receive and partly generate by themselves.”

Mr. Bondarev said that responsibility for the war extended beyond Mr. Putin and included the Russian Foreign Ministry, where he said he had worked for 20 years. Russian diplomats, he said, were complicit in making Putin look like he could achieve an easy victory in Ukraine.

“They got Ukraine wrong, they got the West wrong, basically they got everything wrong,” Bondarev said, referring to the Kremlin’s view of the world before the invasion. “Our State Department diplomats are also to blame for this, for not conveying the information we should have – for smoothing it out and presenting it as if everything was great.”

Mr. Bondarev, a member of the working group on arms control and disarmament at Russia’s Geneva mission, said he had seen misinformation transferred to Moscow in recent weeks.

“Rather than presenting your own analysis as objectively as possible along with your suggestions for how to proceed, we often present information that is sure to be liked,” he says. “That’s the main criterion.”

In an email to colleagues, he said he “should have resigned at least three months ago” when Russia invaded, but he delayed because he still had the family business to run. complete and “must gather my resolve”.

“I simply cannot share in this bloody, senseless and completely unnecessary ridiculousness,” Bondarev wrote.

In the interview, he said that he had grown disgusted with Russian government service even before the invasion, “when we weren’t that kind of person,” but that he stayed because of the level of good salary, interesting work trips and people he meets.

Russian state media did not immediately report Bondarev’s resignation, and the Foreign Ministry was not immediately available for comment at the close of the working day in Moscow. Mr. Bondarev, who is listed as an adviser at the Russian mission on United Nations websiteconfirmed his identity in a video call with The New York Times and by sending pictures of his diplomatic passport.

Mr. Bondarev said that the thing that disturbed him most at his workplace since the invasion was the apathy with which some of his fellow Russian diplomats spoke about possible nuclear attacks to the Western world. West – although they work in arms control. On Russian state TV, commentators have raised the specter of nuclear conflict with increasing frequency while viewing the fighting in Ukraine as a Western proxy war against Russia.

“They think that if you attack a certain village in America with a nuclear strike, the Americans will immediately panic and fall to their knees begging for their mercy,” Bondarev described the comment. of colleagues. “That’s the mindset of many of us, and I fear that this is the line they’re heading to Moscow.”

He said that when he suggested to his colleagues that they probably didn’t want their children to live in “radioactive ruins,” they would giggle and say “this is about values.” – echoes Mr. Putin, who is trying to justify his aggression often described as Russia fighting for “traditional values” against a decadent West.

But Mr. Bondarev said Mr. Putin’s fight was really about the president’s attempt to stay in power amid a sluggish economy and gathering public discontent, and the lack of an ideology to mobilize the masses. they.

“How can you maintain and preserve power without losing it in the face of such objective difficulties?” he asks. “You have to make a war.”

Mr. Bondarev said he does not yet have any solid career plans. On LinkedIn, after posting his resignation statement, he wrote: “Job offers are welcome.”

Nick Cumming-Bruce contributed reporting from Geneva.

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