Yesterday, a veteran Russian diplomat made a big announcement: He resigned. He also sent a scathing letter to his foreign colleagues. In it, he railed against the “aggressive war unleashed” by Russian President Vladimir Putin in Ukraine.
Boris Bondarev, an envoy to the United Nations Switzerland office, confirmed his resignation in a letter delivered yesterday. “For 20 years of my diplomatic career I have seen different turns of our foreign policy,” he wrote. “But never have I been so ashamed of my country as on February 24 of this year.” That was the date of Russia’s invasion.
The resignation is a rare public admission of displeasure about Russia’s war in Ukraine among Russian diplomats. It also comes at a time when Putin’s government has tried to crack down on dissent over the invasion. The authoritarian government labors to squelch stories that conflict with its official line about how the “special military operation”—the official term in Russia—is going.
“The aggressive war unleashed by Putin against Ukraine, and in fact against the entire Western world, is not only a crime against the Ukrainian people, but also, perhaps, the most serious crime against the people of Russia,” Bondarev wrote.
“It is intolerable what my government is doing now,” he says. “As a civil servant, I have to carry a share of responsibility for that. And I don’t want to do that.”
Bondarev hasn’t yet received a reaction from Russian officials. But he adds: “Am I concerned about the possible reaction from Moscow? I have to be concerned about it.”
Bondarev says he had previously expressed disapproval of the war to Russian colleagues. “Some said, ‘Everybody disagrees, but we have to keep working’ while others replied, ‘Shut up and stop spreading this bad influence—especially among younger diplomats,’” he recalls.
Asked if some colleagues felt the same way, Bondarev says: “Not all Russian diplomats are war-mongering. They are reasonable, but they have to keep their mouths shut.”
He suggests that his case could become an example to other Russians. “If my case is prosecuted, then if other people want to follow, they would not,” Bondarev assumes.
Asked if he plans to defect, he chuckles. “I didn’t think so far” ahead.
Bondarev believes those who conceived the war “want only one thing—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.”
He railed against the growing “lies and unprofessionalism” at Russia’s Foreign Ministry—and took particular aim at Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
“In 18 years, [Lavrov] went from a professional and educated intellectual . . . to a person who constantly broadcasts conflicting statements and threatens the world with nuclear weapons!” he writes.
Hiller Neuer leads the advocacy group U.N. Watch. “The U.S., the UK, and the [European Union] should lead the free world in creating a program to encourage more Russian diplomats to follow and defect, by providing protection, financial security, and resettlement for diplomats and their families," he says.
In his email, Bondarev acknowledged that he should have resigned earlier but didn’t because of “some unfinished family business” and because he needed to “gather my resolve.”
“It’s been already three months since my government launched a bloody assault on Ukraine,” Bondarev says, ending with a reference to the poem If by Rudyard Kipling: “And it’s been very hard to keep my mind more or less sane when all about were losing theirs.”
So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. — James 4:17
(The United Nations flag waves in the wind on the top of a UN building in Geneva, Switzerland. AP/Markus Schreiber)