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25 May 2022

The power of one Russian diplomat’s example

How Boris Bondarev is treated will send an important signal to other Russian officials considering a break with the Kremlin.

By Katie Stallard

Boris Bondarev did not mince his words. Resigning his post at the Russian mission to the United Nations in Geneva on 23 May, the career diplomat said that he was “ashamed” of his country and the “aggressive war unleashed by Vladimir Putin against Ukraine, and in fact against the entire Western world”.

“Long overdue,” Bondarev wrote in a statement that he emailed to fellow diplomats and also posted to his personal LinkedIn account. “But today I resign from civil service. Enough is enough.”

“Those who conceived this war want only one thing,” he continued. “To remain in power forever, live in pompous tasteless palaces, sail on yachts comparable in tonnage and cost to the entire Russian Navy, enjoying unlimited power and complete impunity.”

Bondarev, 41, is a mid-level official who specialised in armed control and non-proliferation. He had been a diplomat for 20 years, his entire professional career, and the ministry of foreign affairs had “become my home and family”, he wrote. “But I simply cannot any longer share in this bloody, witless and absolutely needless ignominy.”

He is not the first Russian government official to resign since the start of the war. In March, Anatoly Chubais, who served as Putin’s special climate envoy, stepped down and left Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine. Several other diplomats have reportedly quit in recent months. But none of these figures have commented publicly. By contrast, Bondarev is speaking out forcefully, revealing critical details about the inner workings of the foreign ministry and the danger that Russia might resort to using nuclear weapons in the months ahead.

In an interview with the New York Times, for instance, Bondarev described how his diplomatic colleagues had cabled misleading reports to Moscow about the response to the war because they were primarily concerned with presenting “information that was certain to be liked” rather than their objective analysis. He said he was shocked by how casually they had discussed the possibility of launching a nuclear attack against the West. “They think that if you hit some village in America with a nuclear strike, then the Americans will immediately get scared and run to beg for mercy on their knees.”

In short, Bondarev has a great deal of useful, timely information that could provide crucial insights into how the regime functions and how senior officials view the outlook for the war in Ukraine. But he also has something even more valuable to offer: the power of his own example.

[See also: Putin and Zelensky offer contrasting visions of the future]

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Asked by Associated Press whether there were others within the diplomatic service who shared his views, he replied: “Not all Russian diplomats are warmongering. They are reasonable, but they have to keep their mouths shut.”

There will be many who feel uneasy about praising Bondarev, a man who has served the Putin regime for so long. Russia invaded Ukraine eight years ago, not just in February, and its military has devastated cities and bombed hospitals and schools far beyond Ukraine. Russia invaded Ukraine eight years ago, not just in February, and its military has devastated cities and bombed hospitals and schools far beyond Ukraine.

Indeed, one of the first comments in response to his LinkedIn post was from a Ukrainian woman who pointed out the previous conflicts in Syria, Georgia and Chechnya, as well as the ongoing war in Ukraine, and demanded to know when he had stopped agreeing with the regime he represented. The Kremlin’s critics have been poisoned, shot and jailed over many years – in their own country, but beyond its borders as well.

But those who want to see the end of that regime should ensure that Bondarev’s decision is welcomed warmly and widely, and that he, and his family, are safe. How the former diplomat is now treated will determine whether others follow, and that could have profound implications for the future of Putin’s rule.

[See also: How the world’s dictators are rewriting the past in order to control the future]

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