An act of moral courage deserves acclaim even when it’s unlikely to alter the course of the war.
Boris Bondarev is a mid-level Russian liaison at the UN’s mission in Geneva, Switzerland. His crisis of conscience isn’t as newsworthy as, say, Sergei Lavrov’s would be (in reality, Lavrov has no conscience) but it’s a shot in the arm for the Ukrainians ahead of a hard summer of war at a moment when the west’s commitment is beginning to sag. If Russian officials are tiring of the war, that’s a strong argument to Ukraine’s sponsors not to give up yet.
And some Russians clearly are tiring of it:
Putin facing public backlash in Russia against his war in Ukraine. Thousands of Russian citizens chant “Fu*k the war!” at concert in St Petersburg. pic.twitter.com/FWyDFGpI5I
— Mike Sington (@MikeSington) May 23, 2022
Hillel Neuer of UN Watch got a copy of Bondarev’s farewell statement. It’s a banger. And Lavrov’s name is mentioned.
“Bondarev should be invited to speak in Davos this week,” Neuer said afterward. That’s a fine idea. Zelensky addressed the World Economic Forum being held there this morning, pleading with the west’s movers and shakers for more aid and tighter sanctions on Russia. Having Russia’s newest dissident follow suit would turn up the moral pressure further.
He’s not the first Russian diplomat to quit in protest over the war, you may remember. Putin’s climate envoy, Anatoly Chubais, resigned and bugged out of the country in March. But Chubais said nothing when he departed, possibly hoping that keeping a low profile would ease Putin’s desire for revenge. Bondarev’s cri de coeur is designed to embarrass the Kremlin, by contrast, so now he has to watch his back. “Am I concerned about the possible reaction from Moscow? I have to be concerned about it,” he told the AP, adding that he’s not the only Russian official with misgivings. “Not all Russian diplomats are warmongering. They are reasonable, but they have to keep their mouths shut.”
Maybe Putin will let him slide, as he has more important things to worry about nowadays. And I don’t mean the war.
The hands and leg movements really are getting more and more noticeable (video via @irgarner)pic.twitter.com/xLsykZEg0D
— Shaun Walker (@shaunwalker7) May 23, 2022
Ironically, Bondarev is leaving at the very moment Russia has finally begun to see some modest success on the battlefield. I wrote last week about their “breakthrough” in the village of Popasna, which has given them an opportunity to seal off the Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk. Ukraine has had control of Sievierodonetsk since 2014 despite gains by Russian separatists in other parts of the Donbas but the city is now at risk of falling. And even if it doesn’t fall, the Russian army’s proximity means that all that’ll be left of it when the battle is over is a pile of rubble. It’s Mariupol 2.0:
Because Russia lacks officers capable of leading effective offensives against Ukraine, they are trying to get such a victory in Severodonetsk by overwhelming the Ukrainians with firepower. Schmidt said the Russians are “bludgeoning their way through” in a way that could have dire consequences for civilians, as in Mariupol.
“They’re just pounding Ukrainians with artillery,” Schmidt said.
“Every day they are trying to break the line of defense,” Haidai said in a Ukrainian media interview that he posted to his Telegram channel Sunday. “Round-the-clock there is shelling, and unfortunately the Russian army chose the scorched earth tactic against the city of Severodonetsk: They are simply systematically destroying the city. Everywhere is being shelled constantly.”
One of Michael Weiss’s intelligence sources in eastern Europe believes the battle could have upsides for the Ukrainians. Their strategy for the next several months is simply to wear down Russia’s forces in the east ahead of an offensive this fall. They know that Putin is having trouble finding the manpower he needs to advance so they’re quite logically focused on exacerbating that problem. If the Russians are prepared to funnel troops into the effort to take Sievierodonetsk, the Ukrainians will be happy to turn them into targets:
"Severodonetsk is (was) a town of 100k inhabitants. If Ukraine wants to resist there, they can do it for a long time."
— Michael Weiss 🌻🇺🇸🇮🇪 (@michaeldweiss) May 23, 2022
"If Russian attacks result in plenty of Russian troops getting killed every day, it might make sense for Ukraine to try to hold Severodonetsk. It fulfills the attrition objective."
— Michael Weiss 🌻🇺🇸🇮🇪 (@michaeldweiss) May 23, 2022
The ferocity of the fight around Sievierodonetsk might lead you to assume that battles are raging all across the eastern front. Not so, writes Phillips O’Brien. If anything, the war has grown a bit calmer in the rest of the Donbas as the Ukrainians sit back and prepare for several months of artillery warfare. The key questions about the battle of Sievierodonetsk are (1) how much will it cost each side to assert themselves there, and (2) if the Russians succeed in taking the city, will Putin seize upon it as an off-ramp and offer a peace deal? I assume he’s eager to put Zelensky in the position of having to choose whether to continue the war or not, as divisions in the west on that topic might fracture the coalition supporting Ukraine.
I’ll leave you with Eva Braun here warning the world that if Russia doesn’t “win” in Ukraine then bad things are in store for the human race.
Meanwhile on Russian state TV: head of RT Margarita Simonyan predicts that either Russia will win against Ukraine, or "things will end badly for all of humanity." Simonyan, who studied in the US, tells Russians they should be rejoicing their children will never study in the West. pic.twitter.com/ZC0Zs5tH60
— Julia Davis (@JuliaDavisNews) May 23, 2022
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