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‘Ashamed’ Russian diplomat resigns over Putin’s ‘aggressive war’

A U.N. building in Geneva in June 2021. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
4 min

A diplomat at Russia’s mission to the United Nations in Geneva has resigned over the war in Ukraine, writing that he has never been “so ashamed” of his country, in a rare public rebuke of the war from within the Russian government.

In a letter circulated to colleagues in Geneva and posted on a LinkedIn account in his name as well as on Facebook, Boris Bondarev, counselor at the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, said he had left the civil service Monday.

“For twenty 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 February 24 of this year,” he wrote, referring to the date the invasion was launched.

“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.”

The scathing letter is one of the most high-profile critiques of the war — and its architects — to come from within the Russian government. Russian President Vladimir Putin has made it clear that dissent won’t be tolerated, saying in March that the Russian people can distinguish “true patriots from scum and traitors.”

Anatoly Chubais, Putin’s special representative on sustainable development, resigned and left Russia in March, but did not publicly comment on his reasons for departing.

Russian officials have yet to comment on the case. But critics of the war can face punishment under laws that make it a crime to spread “false information” about the Russian military, including by calling the war a war, rather than a “special operation” — Putin’s preferred term.

Reached by phone by the Associated Press on Monday, Bondarev confirmed that he had handed in his resignation in a letter addressed to Ambassador Gennady Gatilov. He told the AP he had no plans to leave Geneva.

Bondarev took direct aim at Russia’s ruling class. “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,” he wrote.

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

An online directory for the United Nations in Geneva lists Bondarev as counselor at the Russian Federation’s mission. The LinkedIn profile says he is a specialist in arms control, disarmament and nonproliferation and suggests he has been in his current role since 2019.

The final section of his letter calls out the ministry where he worked, singling out Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, whom he cites as an example of the degradation of Russian diplomacy.

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

The ministry of today “is not about diplomacy,” but “warmongering, lies and hatred.”

Bondarev’s very public resignation led to calls for other Russian officials to follow suit.

“Boris Bondarev is a hero,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based nongovernmental organization, who circulated a copy of the Russian diplomat’s letter on Twitter. “We are now calling on all other Russian diplomats at the United Nations—and worldwide—to follow his moral example and resign.”

“This is an unbelievable letter below from a top Russian diplomat denouncing Putin in no uncertain terms,” tweeted Bill Browder, the founder of Hermitage Capital and a prominent critic of Putin.

“This is the language that all Russian officials and oligarchs should use if they have any chance of being treated gently by the West.”

Bondarev’s letter closed with a farewell to the ministry — and a nod to his rather precarious state.

“The Ministry has become my home and family. But I simply cannot any longer share in this bloody, witless and absolutely needless ignominy,” he wrote, adding, “Job offers are welcome …”

Annabelle Timsit in London and Robyn Dixon in Riga, Latvia, contributed to this report.