Not dismissed, only suspended – the chancellery of the Ukrainian President attached great importance to this fine distinction on Monday. The evening before, Head of State Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced in his video message that he was exercising his powers under the conditions of martial law and had relieved the head of the secret service Ivan Bakanov and Prosecutor General Irina Venediktova from their duties.
There are serious questions about the cases of high treason and collaboration with the enemy in the authorities of the two state officials, Zelenskyj justified his decision. The suspension of Bakanov and Venediktova should prevent them from influencing investigations against their employees. Only when this investigation has been completed will it be decided whether the President will ask Parliament to dismiss the two high-ranking officials.
Currently, 651 investigations have been initiated. More than 60 employees of the judiciary and the secret services remained in the areas occupied by Russia and are now working there against the Ukrainian state voted for a party that was openly pro-Russian. In the last parliamentary elections, the “Opposition Platform – for Life” became the second strongest political force after Zelenskyy’s presidential party “Servants of the People” with 13 percent. In the now Russian-occupied areas of Donbass, the “opposition platform” became by far the strongest party.
The Interfax Ukraine news agency published on Monday examples of former Ukrainian officials and people’s representatives collaborating with the Russian occupiers. In the Luhansk region, for example, a former deputy of a municipal representative body has agreed to take over the “Culture, Youth and Sport” department in a district administration of the separatists. A prosecutor has also served the new power, and another is now the Luhansk Customs Inspector General. In the port city of Mariupol in the Donetsk region, police officers defected, and in Kherson a teacher was promoted to headmaster under Russian power.
Ukrainska Pravda, which does not necessarily belong to Zelenskyy’s camp, suspected on Monday that the suspensions were probably not about such cases. Rather, alleged struggles for influence over the president played a central role. There has been a long-standing dispute between the head of Zelenskyj’s law firm, Andriy Yermak, and the head of the intelligence service, Bakanov.
Bakanov is a friend of Zelenskyy’s since childhood in Kryvyi Rih. They lived in the same house, went to the same school, studied at the same university. When Zelenskyy set up his TV production company “Studio-95”, Bakanov became the in-house lawyer. He then headed the staff in Zelenskyy’s presidential election campaign in 2019. Three months after the election victory, Bakanov took over the secret service. As early as June, the presidential administration reportedly got through to the US magazine “Politico” that they were very dissatisfied with Bakanov’s work and were working on getting rid of him. He had shown himself unable to cope with the war situation. The relationship between the two old friends has cooled off noticeably.
In the early days, Bakanov is said not to have prevented some “strange” decisions of his subordinates in southern Ukraine while advancing on the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson. The head of the Kherson secret service ordered his employees to leave the city and not defend it. The proximity to the former head of the secret service in Crimea, who was arrested on suspicion of high treason over the weekend, could also have been fatal for Zelensky’s friend. Even at the beginning of his term in office, Zelenskyj’s plans included closing down the Ukrainian secret service reform. His crew had doubts about the loyalty of older officers in particular. In the eyes of the Presidential Chancellery, Bakanov may not have pushed ahead with this reform consistently enough.