Ukraine’s president sacks intelligence chief, prosecutor

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attends a joint press briefing with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (not shown), as Russia’s offensive on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine on July 11, 2022. REUTERS/Valentin Ogirenko

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Kyiv (Reuters) – President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday abruptly dismissed the head of Ukraine’s powerful internal security service, the State Security Department and the state prosecutor, citing dozens of cases of cooperation with Russia by officials of their agencies.

The dismissals of the head of the State Security Administration, Ivan Bakanov, a childhood friend of Zelensky, and prosecutor Irina Venediktova, who played a key role in the prosecution of Russian war crimes, were announced in executive orders on the president’s website.

The dismissals are easily the largest political expulsions since the invasion of Russia on February 24, forcing the entire Ukrainian state machine to focus on the war effort.

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In a Telegram post, Zelensky said he had fired the top officials because it emerged that several members of their agencies had cooperated with Russia, a problem he said affected other agencies as well.

He said that 651 cases of alleged treason and cooperation have been opened against prosecutors and law enforcement officials, and that more than 60 officials from the Bakanov and Venediktova agencies are now working against Ukraine in the Russian-occupied territories.

The sheer number of treason cases reveals the enormous challenge of Russian infiltration that Ukraine faces as Moscow fights what it says is a struggle for survival.

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“Such a set of crimes against the foundations of the state’s national security … raise very serious questions for the leaders involved,” Zelensky said.

“Each of these questions will get an appropriate answer,” he said.

Russian forces seized swathes of southern and eastern Ukraine during an invasion that killed thousands, displaced millions and devastated cities.

It remains unclear how the Russian-occupied southern Kherson region fell so quickly, in contrast to the fierce resistance around Kyiv that eventually forced Russia to withdraw to focus on capturing the industrial heartland of Donbass in the east.

In his nightly address to the nation, Zelensky referred to the recent arrest on suspicion of treason against the former head of the Strategic Security Service that oversees Crimea, the peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014 that Kyiv and the West still consider Ukrainian territory.

Zelensky said he fired the top security official at the start of the invasion, a decision he said has now proven justified.

“Sufficient evidence has been collected to report this person on suspicion of treason, and all his criminal activities have been documented,” he said.

Bakanov was appointed to head the State Security Administration in 2019, one of the new faces that emerged after Zelensky, a former comedian, won the election earlier that year.

Zelensky appointed Oleksiy Simonenko as the new prosecutor in a separate executive order also posted on the president’s website.

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Reporting by Max Hunder. Additional reporting by Elaine Monaghan. Written by Tom Palmforth. Editing by Gareth Jones and Daniel Wallis

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