Anton Troianovski – NY Times – 23 May
“Boris Bondarev says President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia could have spent the last two decades “developing the country” but instead turned it “into some kind of total horror, a threat to the world.”
Mr. Bondarev would know: He spent his career promoting Mr. Putin’s foreign policy.
A midlevel diplomat at Russia’s United Nations mission in Geneva, Mr. Bondarev on Monday became the most prominent Russian official to resign and publicly criticize the war in Ukraine since the invasion on Feb. 24.
While his blistering message was unlikely to reach most Russians given the state’s domination of the news media, his resignation showed that discontent lurks in Russian officialdom despite the facade of national unity that the Kremlin has worked to create.
“Those who conceived this 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,” Mr. 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 instance of unrest in the Russian elite to emerge in the public eye. Mr. Putin’s climate envoy, Anatoly Chubais, stepped down and left the country in March, reportedly because of his opposition to the war, but he has not commented publicly. Several Russian state television journalists have quit, including an employee who stormed the set of a live news broadcast with an antiwar poster. And some business leaders have spoken out, including a banking tycoon who said the Kremlin had forced him into a fire sale of his assets because of his opposition to the war.
But the Kremlin has gone to extraordinary lengths to silence such dissent. On state television, the war’s opponents are regularly branded as traitors. A law signed by Mr. Putin in March punishes “false information” about the war — potentially defined as anything that contradicts the government line — with as much as 15 years in prison. Partly as a result, there have been next to no government officials to have spoken out against the invasion.
In a phone interview from Geneva, Mr. Bondarev said he felt safer speaking out being abroad, but that he felt he was in a state of “total uncertainty” and 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 that he knew several diplomats who had resigned quietly after the war began. It was impossible to verify that claim.
“There are people — not so few — who think as I do,” he said. “But most, I think, are still in the thrall of this propaganda that they receive and that they, in part, create.”
Mr. Bondarev said that responsibility for the war goes beyond Mr. 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 seem like Mr. Putin could achieve an easy victory in Ukraine.
“They got Ukraine wrong, they got the West wrong, they basically got everything wrong,” Mr. Bondarev said, referring to the Kremlin’s view of the world before the invasion. “We diplomats of the Foreign Ministry are also at fault for this, for not passing along the information that we should have — for smoothing it out and presenting it as though everything was great.”
Mr. Bondarev, part of the team working on arms control and disarmament at Russia’s Geneva mission, said he had seen misleading information cabled to Moscow in recent weeks.
“Instead of presenting your own analysis as objectively as possible along with your suggestions on how to proceed, we often presented information that was certain to be liked,” he said. “That was the main criterion.”
In his email to colleagues, he said that he “should have stepped down at least three months ago,” when Russia invaded, but that he had delayed because he had unfinished family business and “had to gather my resolve.”
“I simply cannot any longer share in this bloody, witless and absolutely needless ignominy,” Mr. Bondarev wrote.
In the interview, he said that he had grown disenchanted with Russian government service even before the invasion, “when we were not yet such pariahs,” but that he had stayed on because of the decent pay and interesting work trips and people he met.”