By Guy Faulconbridge
LONDON (Reuters) -President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has set Russia on a path towards turmoil that could unseat the Kremlin chief, trigger civil war or even ultimately break the country apart, said a Russian diplomat who resigned over the war.
Boris Bondarev, a counsellor at Russia’s permanent mission to the United Nations in Geneva, resigned in May because he felt the war had shown how repressive and warped his homeland had become.
In a 6,500 word critique of Putin’s Russia, Bondarev said the state was infested by sycophantic “yes men”, enabling Putin to make big decisions in an echo chamber of his own propaganda.
“If Putin is kicked out of office, Russia’s future will be deeply uncertain,” Bondarev, who worked at the foreign ministry from 2002 to 2022, said in an essay in Foreign Affairs.
“It’s entirely possible his successor will try to carry on the war, especially given that Putin’s main advisers hail from the security services. But no one in Russia commands his stature, so the country would likely enter a period of political turbulence. It could even descend into chaos.”
The foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Bondarev’s article. The Kremlin has dismissed such views as deeply flawed and says Putin’s popularity has been shown repeatedly at the ballot box.
Putin said on Friday that he had no regrets about the “special military operation”, which he casts as an existential battle with an aggressive and arrogant West that he says wants to destroy and carve up Russia.
But nearly eight months into a war that has triggered the biggest confrontation with the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, even Russia’s most basic aims are far from achieved.
The vast army of a former superpower has been humbled on the field of battle by a much smaller Ukrainian force backed up with weapons, intelligence and advice from Western powers led by the United States. Tens of thousands have died on both sides, according to U.S. intelligence.
Bondarev, who casts himself as a “diplomat in exile” who stepped off the “crazy train”, is the son of an economist at the foreign trade ministry and an English teacher at Moscow’s elite State Institute of Foreign Relations (MGIMO).
He details how diplomats who cabled made-up repetitions of Russian propaganda back to Moscow were rewarded.
“Diplomats who wrote such fiction received applause from their bosses and saw their career fortunes rise,” Bondarev said.
“Moscow wanted to be told what it hoped to be true – not what was actually happening. Ambassadors everywhere got the message, and they competed to send the most over-the-top cables.”
Any ceasefire in Ukraine, he said, would give Putin time.
“Any ceasefire will just give Russia a chance to rearm before attacking again,” he said. “There’s only one thing that can really stop Putin, and that is a comprehensive rout.”
But, Bondarev said, those who dreamed about Russia’s implosion might want to consider the consequences.
“Russians might unify behind an even more belligerent leader than Putin, provoking a civil war, more outside aggression, or both,” he said.
“If Ukraine wins and Putin falls, the best thing the West can do isn’t to inflict humiliation.”
The humiliations Russians suffered after the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union should, Bondarev said, be a lesson for the West.
“Providing aid would also allow the West to avoid repeating their behaviour from the 1990s, when Russians felt scammed by the United States, and would make it easier for the population to finally accept the loss of their empire.”
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)