Mr. Bondaryev, what did you appreciate about Vladimir Putin as a young man?
The 1990s were a humiliating experience for us Russians. We were a powerful nation before, now we were nobody. We were treated like second class citizens. Then came Putin. He was different from President Yeltsin. He was seen as a drunk, sick man, a weak president. Putin was younger, he could speak without a script, he was dynamic, confident. He said we would never negotiate with terrorists. We would fight them. We would never show weakness again. People liked that. They were tired of being humiliated. I voted for Putin in the 2000 presidential election. I felt like he was our only chance.
When you became a diplomat, did you have the feeling that you were helping to build a new Russia?
no Putin never wanted to build anything new. After a few years in power, he wanted to revive the past and Soviet traditions.
You were then a diplomat for 20 years, most recently in the Russian UN mission in Geneva. Why did you quit in May?
Because of the war. He contradicts Russian interests. He only serves Putin and his desire to remain president forever. In order to survive politically, he is willing to sacrifice the country.
Was the invasion really a surprise to you? You were part of the apparatus.
Yes. None of us knew anything.
Who decides in Russia? A small circle in the Kremlin?
Nobody knows who makes the decisions. There is President Putin. But with whom does he consult? Nobody knows. Maybe with people who don’t have an official position.
Who is Putin for you ? Is he just badly advised? Or is he a dictator, a criminal, a fascist?
He established this regime. It is rooted in corruption at all levels of government and society. Everything is geared towards him. He is the pillar that supports everything. None of his circle can exercise the same authority. I agree with Alexey Navalny that Russia can be described as a mafia state. Everything is based on informal relationships and agreements. Entire ministries or federal agencies are created for specific individuals. If Putin were to retire, he would be at the mercy of his successor. He would have no guarantees of his safety.
So is Putin also fighting for his physical survival?
Yes. He is hostage to his system.
You were an insider, take us inside the Russian government apparatus. Do the people there themselves believe in the propaganda they spread?
Some believe in it. Others produce propaganda because they believe in the goals. In recent years, many government officials have come to believe that they are the biggest political players on the planet. Nobody can trump them. They are strong, powerful, and they can do whatever they want. These people genuinely believe they are right.
But these diplomats are highly intelligent and educated. They know the propaganda is wrong.