Vladimir Putin would sacrifice 20 million Russian soldiers to win the war with Ukraine and ensure his political survival, an exiled Russian diplomat has said.

Boris Bondarev, who quit Russia’s permanent mission at the United Nations in Geneva over the war, told Sky News Mr Putin’s “luck is over”.

Speaking to Beth Rigby, he said: “I think the 20 years of him in power have been very lucky for him.

“He is not smart, he is just lucky. Now I think his luck is over.”

Mr Bondarev, who worked in nuclear disarmament, described the level of Mr Putin’s desperation – saying he is prepared to see more than a tenth of the population killed in the conflict.

“After losing the war, he will have to explain to his elites and his population why it is so and he may find some problems in explaining this.

“And after that there may be opposition who will try to depose him or he will try to purge his subordinates to find some people who could be blamed for all these problems. There will be a period of internal turmoil.

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“You should have no doubt about it, he may sacrifice 10 or 20 million Russians just to win this war just to slaughter all Ukrainians because it’s a matter of principle. It’s a matter of political survival to him.

“You have to understand that, if he loses the war, it will be the end for him.

Mr Putin’s decision to expand Russian forces by 137,000 troops next year has led to accusations he is leading young, inexperienced conscripts to their deaths.

Others have claimed they are being tricked and misled.

Two months of fear before he could quit Russia mission

Mr Bondarev, who is based in Geneva, said he made his decision to quit when tanks crossed the Ukrainian border in February, but he could not leave until May.

“I had some affairs to be settled before I quit,” he told Beth Rigby Interviews. “My cat was in Moscow at the time, so we had to get him back to Geneva and it took three months.

“During these two months I was very afraid.

“After the war started they [colleagues] all turned out to be warmongering and very content with what is going on.”

He, however, said he could “no longer work for this government, this country” … “making war crimes and terrible mistakes and crimes against our future generations”.

He admitted he “did not believe President Putin was seriously going to start the war” before it happened.

But now, as intelligence officials warn the Kremlin may be planning a nuclear strike in the Black Sea, Mr Bondarev claims it is not a threat that should be taken lightly.

“I believe that there can be some plans to somehow deploy nuclear weapons during this war in Ukraine,” he said.

“The West, I think, must be consistent to remove Putin because while he and his regime is still in power in Russia, the threat of nuclear war will not go anywhere.”

He added that the Russian leader is using the nuclear button to “compel other countries to whatever he wants”, which he says is a “new level of history of nuclear weapons” and a “very dangerous development”.

Calls for NATO involvement

Mr Bondarev suggested that, as “Putin thinks he’s already waging the Third World War”, NATO should consider entering the conflict.

NATO expansion in eastern Europe was one of the main reasons Mr Putin cited for starting the war.

Most intelligence officials agree NATO’s formal involvement would lead to a major escalation.

But Mr Bondarev said: “They [the Ukrainians] need offensive weapons, more long-range missiles, aircraft.

“So I think NATO must double down the efforts and help.”

He added that while Mr Putin is vehemently anti-NATO, the views of the Russian people are different.

“Russian people, especially younger generations, they don’t see NATO as some kind of existential enemy, they are totally okay with that, as NATO is a defensive organisation,” he said.

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In full: Beth Rigby interviews Boris Bondarev

On hopes of getting China’s President Xi Jinping to help deescalate tensions with the Kremlin, he was doubtful.

“The problem is that China is not very much interested in the defeat of Putin, especially by Ukrainians and by Westerners.

“Because now Putin is attracting a lot of attention from the US, the attention that they refocus on China instead.”