“There are people – not so few – who think like me,” he said. “But most, I think, are still captivated by this propaganda they receive and which they partially create.”
The Kremlin has made extraordinary efforts to silence dissent about the war. On state television, opponents of the war are regularly branded as traitors. A law signed by Putin in March will punish “false information” about the war — possibly defined as anything contrary to the government line — with as much as 15 years in prison. Partly as a result, hardly a single government official had publicly spoken out against the invasion until Mr Bondarev’s resignation.
Still, Mr Bondarev said the responsibility for the war goes beyond Mr Putin and includes the Russian Foreign Ministry. Russian diplomats, he said, were complicit in making it look like Mr Putin could win an easy victory in Ukraine.
“They got Ukraine wrong, they got the West wrong, they actually got everything wrong,” Mr Bondarev said, referring to the Kremlin’s view of the world before the invasion. “We foreign ministry diplomats are also to blame for this, because we didn’t pass the information we should have — to smooth it over and present it as if everything was great.”
Bondarev, part of the arms control and disarmament team at the Russian mission in Geneva, said he had seen misleading information telephoning Moscow in recent weeks.
“Rather than presenting your own analysis as objectively as possible, along with your suggestions on how to proceed, we often presented information that was sure to please,” he said. “That was the main criterion.”
In his email to colleagues, he said he “should have resigned at least three months ago” when Russia invaded, but that he had postponed because he had an unfinished family business and “had to collect my decision”.