Zelenskiy's sudden dismissal of top officials

Ihor Bakanov, head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), and Iryna Venediktova, Prosecutor General of Ukraine (Credit: Courtesy)

News of the suspension of Ihor Bakanov, the head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), and of Iryna Venediktova, Prosecutor General of Ukraine, rocked the country’s domestic politics. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy signed the relevant decrees and announced his decisions in his daily televised address on the evening of Sunday 17 July.

“As of today, 651 criminal proceedings have been registered regarding high treason and collaborative activities of employees of the prosecutor's offices, pretrial investigation bodies, and other law enforcement agencies”, said Zelenskiy. “Such an array of crimes against the foundations of the national security of the state and the connections recorded between the employees of the security forces of Ukraine and the special services of Russia pose very serious questions to the relevant leaders.”

According to the president's office, this decision is due to the delays in ridding security forces from collaborators and traitors. However, they emphasize that neither Bakanov nor Venediktova have been sacked and official inspections and investigations are still being conducted.

The decision to dismiss both officials requires the green light of both the head of state and the parliament.

Bakanov heads the SBU since August 2019. He is a childhood friend of president Zelenskiy andhe worked at his production company “Studio Kvartal-95”. During the presidential election, he managed his Zelenskiy’s campaign . Last month, the American publication Politico, citing its own sources, reported that Zelensky wanted to dismiss Bakanov because there were traitors in his service and Russian troops managed to advance in Kherson.

Iryna Venediktova, Zelenskiy's former adviser and party deputy, is Prosecutor General since March 2020. After the start of the full-scale invasion of Russia in February, her office has been actively investigating war crimes. In late May, Venediktova reported that the Prosecutor General's Office was handling over 13,000 war crimes cases related to Russian atrocities, including the killing of civilians, rape and torture.In past years, many opposition politicians criticised Venediktova’s lack of significant results in high-profile anti-corruption cases.

For Vitaly Shabunin, chairman of the board of the Anti-Corruption Centre, both dismissals  give a power monopoly to one person. He believes this person is Olge Tatarov, the deputy head of the Office of the President of Ukraine. 

“The real reason for the removal of Venediktova and the removal of Bakanov is the handing over of the law enforcement agency and the Security Service of Ukraine into the hands of Oleg Tatarov.”

Tatrov previously appeared as a suspect of bribery in a criminal case.

For military journalist Yuriy Butusov, these dismissals are a sign of an even greater concentration of powers in the hands of the head of the President's Office, Andriy Yermak.