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President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s shocking removal of two top law enforcement officials has revealed another front in the conflict closer to home — against spies and Kremlin sympathisers even as the Ukrainian army is putting up intense frontal resistance against Russian forces.
It is unprecedented since the invasion began that he fired prosecutor general Iryna Venediktova and SBU security chief Ivan Bakanov, both of whom were friends of President Zelenskyy from their youth.
Zelenskyy chastised the pair for failing to stop Russian spies’ and collaborators’ operations in Ukraine when the judgement was announced on Sunday and ratified by parliament on Tuesday.
In his daily video address, he said there were over 650 cases involving officials suspected of treason and aiding Russia, including 60 ‘working against our state’ in Russian-held areas of the country.
‘Everyone was expecting… more tangible results’ from Bakanov and Venediktova in ‘fighting collaborators and traitors’, said Andriy Smyrnov, deputy head of the presidential administration.
In the last few months, at least three top SBU officials have been accused of high treason.
One of them, Oleg Kulinich, who was sacked in March and was arrested on Sunday, had been based in the southern region of Kherson.
Situated close to the Crimean peninsula which was annexed by Moscow in 2014, the region was quickly taken over by Russian troops at the start of the invasion — a significant setback for which the government was heavily criticised.
‘This man was collaborating with Russian secret services. It is a very serious blow. In my view, it was the last straw for Zelenskyy,’ Fesenko said.
Zelenskyy had already sacked the regional head of the SBU for Kherson, Sergiy Kryvoruchko.
Another SBU official is suspected of having shared with Russian troops top secret maps of minefields intended to hamper their advance.
Africa Daily News, New York recalls that Zelenskyy had on Monday said there would be a “review” within the SBU, pointing out that 28 agents could be sacked for ‘unsatisfactory’ work.
One of Bakanov’s deputies has also been sacked.