Volodymyr Zelenskiy has fired the head of Ukraine’s powerful internal security service, the SBU, and the state prosecutor, citing dozens of cases of cooperation with Russia by officials of their agencies.
The abrupt resignations of SBU chief Ivan Bakanov, a childhood friend of Zelenskiy, and Attorney General, Iryna Venediktova, who played a key role in prosecuting Russian war crimes, were announced in executive orders on the president’s website.
In a Telegram message, Zelenskiy said he fired the top officials because it was revealed that many members of their agencies had collaborated with Russia, an issue he said had affected other agencies as well.
He said 651 cases of alleged treason and collaboration had been opened against prosecutors and law enforcement officials, and that more than 60 officials from the Bakanov and Venediktova agencies were now working against Ukraine in the Russian-occupied territories.
The sheer number of betrayals exposes the massive challenge of Russian infiltration facing Ukraine as it battles Moscow in what it says is a fight for survival.
“Such a series of crimes against the foundations of the national security of the state … pose very serious questions to the relevant leaders,” Zelenskiy said. “Each of these questions gets an appropriate answer.”
Russian forces have captured parts of southern and eastern Ukraine in an invasion that killed thousands, displaced millions and destroyed cities.
It remains unclear how the southern Russian-occupied region of Kherson fell so quickly, in contrast to the fierce resistance around Kiev that eventually forced Russia to retreat to focus on conquering the industrial heart of Donbas to the east.
In his overnight address to the nation, Zelenskiy noted the recent arrest on suspicion of treason of the former head of the SBU that oversaw the region of Crimea, the peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014 that Kiev and the west still consider as a Ukrainian country.
Zelenskiy said he fired the top security official at the start of the invasion, a decision he said was now justified. “Sufficient evidence has been gathered to report this person on suspicion of treason. All his criminal activities have been documented,” he said.
Bakanov was appointed head of the SBU in 2019, one of several new faces to come to prominence after Zelenskiy, a former comedian, won the election earlier that year.
Zelenskiy appointed Oleksiy Symonenko as the new Attorney General in a separate executive order that was also published on the president’s site.