A veteran Russian diplomat in Geneva has resigned over his country’s invasion of Ukraine in a rare political protest from within the Russian foreign policy establishment.
Boris Bondarev, a counsellor at the Russian permanent mission to the United Nations in Geneva, wrote in a public statement: “Never have I been so ashamed of my country.”
“Today the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is not about diplomacy,” wrote the diplomat, a 20-year veteran of the Russian foreign ministry. “It is all about warmongering, lies and hatred. It serves interests of few, the very few people thus contributing to further isolation and degradation of my country. Russia no longer has allies, and there is no one to blame but its reckless and ill-conceived policy.”
Bondarev is the highest-level diplomat yet to resign publicly from the Russian foreign ministry over the war, which began in February. In a telephone interview with the Guardian, Bondarev confirmed that he had written the statement and submitted his letter of resignation on Monday.
“The decision was very simple,” said Bondarev. “When you see that your country is doing the worst things and being a civil servant you’re somehow related to that, it’s your decision just to terminate your connection with the government. We all must be responsible. And I don’t want to have any responsibility for what I don’t approve of.”
Bondarev published the statement on his Facebook and LinkedIn accounts and also sent copies to diplomats and media outlets. He said he had walked into work on Monday, submitted his resignation, and walked out.
“The decision was made on February 24. But it took some time to gather some resolve to make it,” he said.
Hillel Neuer, the executive director of the Geneva-based human rights organisation UN Watch, called Bondarev a “hero”.
“We are now calling on all other Russian diplomats at the United Nations – and worldwide – to follow his moral example and resign,” he said.
Neuer also called for Bondarev to be allowed to speak at this week’s Davos forum, a gathering of the world’s political and business elite at a mountain resort in Switzerland.
Bondarev’s statement was also confirmed by the Russian media outlet Kommersant, which said that it “also knows the names of several other diplomats who resigned from the Russian foreign ministry after the start of the ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine, but almost none of them have made public statements about this”.
Bondarev, a counsellor on arms control at the Russian diplomatic mission in Geneva, said that other Russian diplomats have similar feelings about the war but are unlikely to speak out.
“There are people who think the way that I think and see the situation for what it is,” he said. “But I don’t know whether some of them will follow my example. I don’t think that there will be many.”
He said he had not had any response yet from the foreign ministry after delivering his letter of resignation on Monday.
“I don’t know what the [Russian] reaction will be,” he said. “I don’t know what I am going to do either. No plans.”
Asked whether he had asked for asylum outside Russia, he said: “I think that if someone offers to help in this difficult situation, I think it would be very gratefully accepted.”
As to returning to Russia, he said that “would not be a very good idea right now”.
In his public statement, Bondarev took aim at top officials such as Vladimir Putin and Sergei Lavrov, calling the Russian foreign minister “a good illustration of the degradation of the system”.
“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.
“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 said. “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.”
Bondarev is a career diplomat who has worked for the foreign ministry since 2002. He has served as an adviser on nuclear non-proliferation for nearly a decade, first in Moscow and then at Russia’s permanent mission to the UN and other international organisations in Geneva.
During that time, he said, he had stayed on as a diplomat even as relations deteriorated with the west because he felt there was “some room for diplomacy, some room to go back to normal somehow”.
“But now after February 24, we just jumped into an abyss and there can be no going back to normal, no going back to anywhere,” he continued. “Today of course we can see that there can be no negotiations, it’s just all-out war.”