Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has placed two key authorities on administrative leave after criticizing their leadership abilities and charging several of their subordinates with treason and working with the Kremlin.
Ivan Bakanov, the chief of the State Security Service (SBU), and Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova, a longtime friend and ally of the president, are currently the subject of an inquiry and have been temporarily replaced.
The deputy head of the Office of the President, Andriy Smyrnov, told Ukrainian television on Monday:
“For a long enough time, we have been waiting for more concrete and sufficiently radical results from the leaders of these two departments, to clean these two departments of collaborators and state traitors. However, in the sixth month of the war, we continue to find … packs of these people, in each of these departments.”
In his nightly video message on Sunday, Zelenskyy appeared to imply that the two had been fired.
“Today, I made a decision to remove the Prosecutor General from office and to dismiss the Head of the Security Service of Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said, adding that many officers in both departments were under suspicion of treason.
On Monday, Smyrnov said that the two had been suspended to ensure they did not obstruct the investigation into the matter. Depending on the inquiry’s findings, Zelenskyy will determine whether or not to present a resolution for their dismissal to the Ukrainian parliament.
“As of today, 651 criminal proceedings have been registered regarding treason and collaboration activities of employees of prosecutor’s offices, pretrial investigation bodies, and other law enforcement agencies,” Zelenskyy said on Sunday evening.
“In particular, more than 60 employees of the prosecutor’s office and the Security Service of Ukraine remained in the occupied territory and are working against our state. Such an array of crimes against the foundations of the national security of the state and the connections detected between the employees of the security forces of Ukraine and the special services of Russia pose very serious questions to the relevant leadership. Each of these questions will receive a proper answer,” the president said.
He added that the former leader of the Main Directorate of the Security Service in Crimea has also been arrested on suspicion of treason.
“Employees of the State Bureau of Investigation together with the Security Service of Ukraine detained the former head of the Main Directorate of the Security Service of Ukraine in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. This person was dismissed by me at the beginning of the full-scale invasion, and as we can see, that decision was completely justified. Sufficient evidence has been collected to notify this person of suspicion of treason,” he said. “All his criminal activities are documented. Everything he has done during these months, as well as earlier, will get a proper legal assessment.”
“Everyone who together with him was part of a criminal group that worked in the interests of the Russian Federation will also be held accountable. It is about the transfer of secret information to the enemy and other facts of cooperation with the Russian special services,” he added.
The ease with which Russian forces could take control of sizable portions of the south within a week of the invasion has been attributed to senior officers in the SBU in southern Ukraine.
Zelenskyy said that Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal would be in charge of stepping up the hunt for a new director of the National Anticorruption Bureau.