(Left) US Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2003 justifying US invasion and occupation of Iraq. (Right) Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in 2022 justifying Russian invasion and occupation of Ukraine.
By Ann Wright
It would not be easy. But from my own experience, I can tell those Russian diplomats that a heavy load will be lifted from their consciences if they do.
Nineteen years ago, in March 2003, I resigned as a U.S. diplomat in opposition to the President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq. I joined two other U.S diplomats, Brady Kiesling and John Brown, who had resigned in weeks previous to my resignation. We heard from fellow U.S. diplomats assigned to U.S. embassies around the world that they too believed that the decision of the Bush administration would have long term negative consequences for the U.S. and the world, but for a variety of reasons, no one joined us in resignation until later. Several initial critics of our resignations later told us they were wrong and they agreed that the decision of the U.S. government to wage war on Iraq was disastrous.
The U.S. decision to invade Iraq using the manufactured threat of weapons of mass destruction and without the authorization of the United Nations was protested by people in virtually every country. Millions were in the streets in capitals around the world before the invasion demanding that their governments not participate in the U.S. "coalition of the willing."
For the past two decades, Russian President Putin has warned the U.S. and NATO in stark terms that the international rhetoric of "the doors will not close for the possible entry of Ukraine into NATO" was a threat to the national security of the Russian Federation.
Putin cited the 1990s verbal agreement of the George H.W. Bush administration that following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, NATO would not move "one inch" closer to Russia. NATO would not enlist countries from the former Warsaw Pact alliance with the Soviet Union.
However, under the Clinton administration, the U.S. and NATO began its "Partnership for Peace" program that morphed into full entrance into NATO of former Warsaw Pact countries—Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania, Croatia, Montenegro, and North Macedonia.
The U.S. and NATO went one step too far for the Russian Federation with the February 2014 overthrow of the elected, but allegedly corrupt, Russia-leaning government of Ukraine, an overthrow that was encouraged and supported by the U.S. government. Fascist militias joined with ordinary Ukrainian citizens who did not like the corruption in their government. But rather than waiting less than one year for the next elections, riots began and hundreds were killed in Maidan Square in Kyiv by snipers from both the government and the militias.
Violence against ethnic Russians spread in other parts of Ukraine and many were killed by fascist mobs on May 2, 2014 in Odessa. The majority ethnic Russians in the eastern provinces of Ukraine began a separatist rebellion citing violence against them, lack of resources from the government and cancellation of teaching of Russian language and history in schools as reasons for their rebellion. While the Ukrainian military has allowed the extreme right-wing neo-Nazi Azov battalion to be a part of military operations against the separatist provinces, the Ukrainian military is not a fascist organization as alleged by the Russian government.
The Azov participation in politics in Ukraine was not successful with their receiving only 2 percent of the vote in the 2019 election, much less than other right-wing political parties have received in elections in other European countries.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is just as wrong in asserting that the Ukrainian President Zelensky heads a fascist government that must be destroyed as my former boss, Secretary of State Colin Powell, was wrong in perpetrating the lie that the Iraqi government had weapons of mass destruction and therefore must be destroyed.
The Russian Federation's annexation of Crimea has been condemned by most of the international community. Crimea was under a special agreement between the Russian Federation and the Ukrainian government in which Russian soldiers and ships were assigned in Crimea to provide the Russian Southern Fleet access to the Black Sea, the Federation's military outlet to the Mediterranean Sea. In March 2014, after eight years of discussions and polling of whether the residents of Crimea wanted to remain as with Ukraine, ethnic Russians (77% of the population of Crimea were Russian speaking) and the remaining Tatar population held a plebiscite in Crimea and voted to ask the Russian Federation to be annexed. 83 percent of the voters in Crimea turned out to vote and 97 percent voted for integration into the Russian Federation. The results of the plebiscite were accepted and implemented by the Russian Federation without a shot being fired. However, the international community applied strong sanctions against Russia and special sanctions against Crimea that destroyed its international tourism industry of hosting tourist ships from Turkey and other Mediterranean countries.
In the next eight years from 2014 to 2022, over 14,000 persons were killed in the separatist movement in the Donbass region. President Putin continued to warn the US and NATO that Ukraine being annexed into the NATO sphere would be a threat to the national security of the Russian Federation. He also warned NATO about the increasing number of military war games conducted on the Russian border including in 2016 a very large war maneuver with the ominous name of "Anaconda," the large snake that kills by wrapping around suffocating its prey, an analogy not lost on the Russian government. New US/NATO bases that were constructed in Poland and location of missile batteries in Romania added to the Russian government's concern about its own national security.
In late 2021 with the U.S. and NATO dismissing the Russian government's concern for its national security, they again stated the "door was never closed to entry into NATO" where upon the Russian Federation responded with a build-up of 125,000 military forces around Ukraine. President Putin and long-standing Russian Federation Foreign Minister Lavrov kept telling the world that this was a large-scale training exercise, similar to military exercises that NATO and the US had conducted along its borders.
However, in a lengthy and wide-ranging televised statement on February 21, 2022, President Putin laid out a historic vision for the Russian Federation including the recognition of the separatist provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk in the Donbass region as independent entities and declared them allies. Only hours later, President Putin ordered a Russian military invasion of Ukraine.
Acknowledgement of the events of the past eight years, does not absolve a government of its violation of international law when it invades a sovereign country, destroys infrastructure and kills thousands of its citizens in the name of the national security of the invading government.
This is exactly the reason I resigned from the U.S. government nineteen years ago when the Bush administration used the lie of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as a threat to U.S. national security and the basis for invading and occupying Iraq for almost a decade, destroying large amounts of infrastructure and killing tens of thousands of Iraqis.
I didn't resign because I hated my country. I resigned because I thought the decisions being made by elected politicians serving in government were not in the best interests of my country, or the people of Iraq, or the world.
Resignation from one's government in opposition to a decision for war made by one's superiors in the government is a huge decision, particularly with what Russian citizens—much less Russian diplomats—face with the Russian government criminalizing use of the word "war," arresting of thousands protesters on the streets, and shutting down independent media outlets.
With Russian diplomats serving in over 100 Russian Federation embassies all over the world, I know they are watching international news sources and have much more information about the brutal war on the people of the Ukraine than their colleagues at the Foreign Ministry in Moscow, much less the average Russian, now that international media has been taken off the air and internet sites disabled.
For those Russian diplomats, a decision to resign from the Russian diplomatic corps would result in much more severe consequences and most certainly would be much more dangerous than what I faced in my resignation in opposition to the U.S. war on Iraq.
However, from my own experience, I can tell those Russian diplomats that a heavy load will be lifted from their consciences once they make the decision to resign. While they will be ostracized by many of their former diplomatic colleagues, as I found, many more will quietly approve of their courage to resign and face the consequences of the loss of the career that they worked so diligently to create.
Should some Russian diplomats resign, there are organizations and groups in virtually every country where there is a Russian Federation embassy that I think will provide them with aid and assistance as they embark on a new chapter of their lives without the diplomatic corps.
They are facing a momentous decision.
And, if they resign, their voices of conscience, their voices of dissent, will probably be the most important legacy of their lives.
Ann Wright is a 29 year US Army/Army Reserves veteran who retired as a Colonel and a former US diplomat who resigned in March 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq. She served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia. In December 2001 she was on the small team that reopened the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. She is the co-author of the book "Dissent: Voices of Conscience."