ZBoris Bondaryev worked for the Russian Foreign Ministry for twenty years. Because of the Russian attack on Ukraine, he resigned under protest – as the only Russian diplomat so far. “The war of aggression that Putin has unleashed against Ukraine and the whole Western world is not only a crime against the Ukrainian people, but perhaps also the greatest crime against the people of Russia, in which he buried all the hopes and prospects of a prosperous free society in our country,” Bondaryev wrote in a statement released May 23.
In an article for the American magazine “Foreign Affairs” and in interviews in Russian-language media financed by America, the 42-year-old Bondaryev has now described his motives for the public break with the Russian state. He gives informative insights into the inner workings of the Russian Foreign Ministry. Bondaryev told Internet TV channel Currenttime.tv that he wanted to show how Russian diplomacy has come from the beginning of his career in the early 2000s, “when our foreign policy was more or less adequate,” to the current “low point where it has reached a… appendage of the Russian state’s propaganda machine”.
Bondaryev writes in Foreign Affairs that Western leaders understood the shortcomings of the Russian army during the war against Ukraine: “But they don’t seem to understand that Russian foreign policy is just as ruined.”
“Ninety-nine percent of the State Department’s work today is essentially propaganda,” he told Radio Liberty’s Russian service. Using examples, Bondaryev, who most recently worked in Russia’s representation at the United Nations in Geneva, describes how the Foreign Ministry’s perception of the world outside Russia was increasingly determined by its own propaganda: “Moscow wanted to hear what it was hoping for and didn’t what really happened.” Diplomats who met this expectation were promoted. “All of our ambassadors understood that – and so an unspoken competition began as to who trumped whom.” The “grains of truth” in their dispatches buried them “under the thunder of propaganda”.
Confusion over documents from the Kremlin
As an example, he cites the failure of a resolution tabled by Russia at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPWC) after the poisoning of former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Great Britain in 2018: This defeat was said by the responsible diplomats in one go hidden in a single sentence of a lengthy report detailing how Russian delegates had successfully dismissed “anti-Russian” accusations from the West.
Bondaryev describes the attack on the Skripals as a turning point in his slow estrangement from his employer. At first he did not believe in Russian involvement, he writes in Foreign Affairs. He “sincerely” participated in attempts to convince foreign countries that Russia was not involved. But the insubstantiality of the Russian denials increased his doubts: “I know how difficult it is to understand that your country is ruled by criminals who are ready to kill in revenge.” Ministry held, was the fear of the future after a dismissal.
The propaganda in the Foreign Ministry’s internal reports and the inability to comment critically on orders from the Kremlin have, over the years, led to an increasingly dangerous “rupture in contact with reality,” writes Bondaryev. When Russian-American talks on Moscow’s proposals for a new peace order in Europe took place in Geneva in January 2022, there was confusion among his colleagues. It was clear to them that the Russian demands – such as the de facto military reversal of NATO expansions from 1997 – were unacceptable to Americans and Europeans. “In the end we found out that the document came straight from the Kremlin.”
Martial mood among Russia’s diplomats
At the time, Bondaryev writes, he hoped that his colleagues would at least show alarm in private conversations. But many would have readily agreed to “the Kremlin lie”. In this way, they convinced themselves and others that they were not responsible for Russia’s actions and were only carrying out orders: “I could understand that.” What worried him more, writes Bondaryev, “is that our increasingly belligerent behavior has made many people proud.” . Immediately after the beginning of the war, many were in high spirits.
For family reasons, it took three months for Bondaryev to publicly resign. During this time, colleagues’ rhetoric in the face of military failures had become darker, but no less belligerent. Russia must hit a “suburb of Washington” with a nuclear warhead, then “the Americans will pee their pants and beg us for peace,” said a ballistic missile expert. Others have admitted in private conversations that the situation is insane, “but it hasn’t affected their work. They keep lying about Ukrainian aggression.”