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'Ashamed' Russian diplomat quits over invasion of Ukraine

In a scathing email, veteran diplomat Boris Bondarev called the invasion "a crime" and said those who launched the war care only about power, palaces and yachts.
The United Nation flag billows atop a U.N. building in Geneva on June 14, 2021.
The U.N. flag billows atop a U.N. building in Geneva on June 14.Markus Schreiber / AP file

A Russian diplomat at the U.N. office in Geneva has quit over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, blasting the war as a disgrace and a crime against the people of Ukraine and Russia.

Boris Bondarev, a counselor in Russia’s mission to the U.N. office in Geneva since 2019, said he had resigned in an email sent to other foreign diplomats Monday. The email was tweeted by Hiller Neuer, the executive director of U.N. Watch, an advocacy group, and later confirmed by Bondarev to The Associated Press.

“For 20 years of my diplomatic career I have seen different turns of our foreign policy but never have I been so ashamed of my country as on Feb. 24 of this year,” Bondarev wrote, a reference to the date Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian forces into Ukraine.

“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, with a bold letter Z crossing out all hopes and prospects for a prosperous free society in our country,” he wrote.

Bondarev’s statement represented the sharpest public break from the Kremlin by a Russian diplomat or other government official since the start of the war. 

“It reflects something I think we already knew, that a fair number of people in the elite — although not in positions of real power or influence — think this invasion is both wrong and a disaster for Russia,” said John Herbst, a former career U.S. diplomat who served as the ambassador to Ukraine.

Russian diplomat Boris Bondarev.
Russian diplomat Boris Bondarev.Boris Bondarev via AP

Some members of Russian think tanks and some oligarchs criticized the war in the initial days after the invasion, but “then the hammer came down, and ever since the hammer came down, you’ve seen only blind statements of loyalty to the czar,” Herbst added.

A State Department spokesperson praised Bondarev’s “immense bravery” in criticizing the Kremlin, saying it showed that there are Russians who strongly disagree with Putin’s actions in Ukraine.

“Plummeting morale is clearly not limited to Russia’s military forces fighting in Ukraine,” the spokesperson said. 

“Boris Bondarev’s statement underscores that people around the world, including in Russia and even within the Russian government, are recognizing the brutality of the Kremlin’s assault on the Ukrainian people. They are doing so despite the Kremlin’s best efforts to manufacture and perpetuate disinformation.”

The effect of the resignation would depend on whether a wave of other diplomats or officials followed Bondarev’s lead, said Herbst, now at the Atlantic Council think tank.

In his scathing portrait of the war and the Kremlin, Bondarev said the invasion was the brainchild of people whose sole aim is to cling to power at any cost.

“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,” Bondarev wrote.

“To achieve that they are willing to sacrifice as many lives as it takes. Thousands of Russians and Ukrainians have already died just for this,” he said.

Bondarev also said the Russian Foreign Ministry had deteriorated and was now engaged in lies and propaganda reminiscent of Josef Stalin’s rule in the former Soviet Union in the 1930s.

“Instead of unbiased information, impartial analysis and sober forecasting, there are propaganda cliches in the spirit of Soviet newspapers of the 1930s. A system has been built to deceive itself,” he wrote.

Bondarev also took aim at Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who he said had tarnished his professional reputation.

In 18 years, Lavrov went from a professional and educated intellectual, whom many colleagues held in high esteem, “to a person who constantly broadcasts conflicting statements and threatens the world (that is, Russia too) with nuclear weapons!” he wrote.

“Today the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is not about diplomacy. It is all about warmongering, lies and hatred.”

Bondarev said he had no choice but to resign: “The Ministry has become my home and my family. But I simply cannot any longer share in this bloody, witless and absolutely needless ignominy.”

Russia’s embassy in Washington was not immediately available for comment.