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A Russian diplomat quit his post in a daring anti-Kremlin walkout on Monday as he condemned Vladimir Putin for trying to stay in power by unleashing an “aggressive war in Ukraine”.
Boris Bondarev, a counsellor at the Russian permanent mission to the UN in Geneva, told The Telegraph he felt it was his moral duty to take a stand against the Putin regime.
“I couldn’t take it any longer,” the spectacled 41-year-old career diplomat said.
“I should have done it at the start [of the war] but not everyone is a hero.”
The counsellor’s dramatic exit represents the first high-profile defection by a Russian diplomat since the start of the Ukrainian invasion.
Mr Bondarev, who graduated from the prestigious Moscow university that trains diplomats, worked at the Russian foreign ministry for two decades before he handed in his damning resignation letter on Monday, before sharing it on social media.
‘I feel disgusted to represent Russia’
“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 February 24 of this year. 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.”
Mr Bondarev told The Telegraph he felt “disgusted” representing Russia abroad after President Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine.
An article about “crimes against humanity” committed by the Ukrainian government in the country’s east has been leading the official website of Russia’s mission to the UN.
Mr Bondarev has specialised in nuclear non-proliferation for the better part of the past decades. He is now horrified by how lightly Russian officials raise the prospect of deploying nuclear weapons.
“It really is chilling. All of this talk is just a nightmare.”
Several of Mr Bondarev’s acquaintances have quietly quit their jobs at the ministry since the start of the invasion, he said, as a great number of Russian diplomats, even those who make hawkish statements in the media, are privately appalled by the brutal war in Ukraine and the ministry’s role in making up excuses for apparent war crimes.
“What’s the point in our work when the Russian president is the only ‘diplomat’ in this country and he ‘knows better’?” Mr Bondarev said.
“All diplomats should have asked themselves that and maybe quit.”
The counsellor recalls how Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, used to be a role model for several generations of Russian diplomats who respected him for his craft and good manners before undergoing a “deplorable evolution to become a person who spurts out utter nonsense” and bringing in notorious figures like spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, famous for her decidedly undiplomatic language.
Wave of anti-war protests
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has triggered a wave of anti-war protests and sent thousands of Russian dissidents into exile. Some of Russia’s best-known artists, singers and filmmakers have spoken out against Putin’s aggression, only to be blacklisted or threatened with criminal charges.
Russia media speculated that many senior figures in the government, including liberal-leaning officials like the Central Bank chief, have been privately grumbling about the invasion but none have taken a public stand.
Russian opposition figures in exile such as Lyubov Sobol, a close ally of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, praised the diplomat for “the right words”.
Mr Bondarev told The Telegraph he had been crafting his statement for weeks as he was trying to come to terms with the fact that he would likely be dismissed by the Russian state as a traitor, and his diplomatic career of 20 years was going to be over.
“It would be a badge of honour,” he said when asked about accusations of betraying the Kremlin.
“I have done my duty as a citizen as I see it - probably for the first time in my 41 years.”
The diplomat, who has been living in Geneva since 2019, has no immediate plans and has no idea what kind of backlash to expect at home.
“The most important thing is that my cat is safe,” he told The Telegraph when asked about his security concerns.