ARCHIV - ARCHIV - 20.03.2014, Berlin: Die russische Flagge weht auf dem Gebäude der russischen Botschaft in Berlin. (zu dpa «Deutschland weist vier russische Diplomaten aus» vom 26.03.2018) Foto: Britta Pedersen/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa +++ dpa-Bildfunk +++

With the Russian attack on Ukraine, Russia’s diplomacy lost one of its last principles: “To serve peace and not war,” writes former Russian diplomat Boris Bondarev in an essay in the business magazine “The Economist”.

Bondarev worked as a diplomat for the Russian Foreign Ministry for 22 years, first as an intern and then as a UN adviser in Geneva. At the end of May, however, he had acknowledged his service with the words “enough is enough”.

As a child, he always imagined the diplomatic job as somewhat luxurious: “Big receptions, balls and noble gentlemen in suits,” he describes it in his article from the weekend. According to Bondarev, diplomats were also considered privileged and particularly intelligent in the former Soviet Union.

But with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the “romantic” world and the high status of diplomacy changed drastically. Many employees left the service to work in the private sector. Those who stayed were those “less ambitious, less talented”, the ex-diplomat speaks of “grey bureaucrats”.

It was precisely those bureaucrats who made Boris Bondarev’s own entry less significant than he had hoped. He wanted to protect Russian interests while creating “peaceful and profitable cooperation with other countries”. They often couldn’t even turn on a computer, according to Bondarev.

Aside from his lazy and ignorant colleagues, the ex-diplomat describes the handful of diplomats who took on high-ranking posts after the collapse of the Soviet Union as the much bigger problem and today form the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry. It was they who repeatedly advised Bondarev not to make major decisions.

As an example, the ex-diplomat cites a situation from his time in Mongolia from 2009 to 2013. He suggested financial support as “soft power”, but the responsible ambassador immediately rejected it. “Moscow would not support this idea,” was the reasoning.

The result of this Moscow-focused policy: according to Bondarev, “a bunch of childish diplomats”. The Foreign Ministry has increasingly lost value over the years, everything was based solely on the political wind blowing from the Kremlin. The credo was: just don’t attract attention, just don’t annoy the Kremlin.

Bondarev in the “Economist” also defines the attitude towards the confrontational course of Vladimir Putin since the 2010s just as slickly. None of the diplomats would have dared the slightest protest, not even himself. “I thought the situation would somehow be solved by diplomacy,” he regrets.

The years that followed were characterized by growing propaganda in the Foreign Ministry, which ultimately caused the diplomats’ professionalism to disappear completely. The older diplomats therefore picked up diplomatic skills from the Soviet era, and past clichés and alliances were called back onto the scene.

The last blow to Boris Bondarev is well known, it coincided with Putin’s attack on Ukraine on February 24, 2022. This war, the ex-diplomat writes, represents the “most serious mistake of modern Russia”. There would be a choice he had nothing more than to give up his office.