To what extent are Russian secret services infiltrated in Ukraine? Its president, Volodímir Zelenski, put this Sunday black on white in a threat that has been flying since the beginning of the Russian invasion. Zelenski specified that 651 people are accused of providing information to the enemy – the Ministry of the Interior raised the figure a month ago to 700 -. The main concern is Russia’s collaborators in state powers. The Ukrainian leader has now given a blow by suspending the attorney general and the head of the Intelligence Services (SBU) from their positions.
Lviv, mid-March. The Russian invasion had been underway for three weeks. If any place in Ukraine is free from Russian influence, this is the main city of the Western provinces. EL PAÍS then met with a source close to the Army General Staff. Several US media reported on February 20 that the US secret services took the invasion of Ukraine for granted. This came four days later. The Ukrainian presidency and government did not fully accept the threat until the last moment. Why, while Ukraine’s allies saw an imminent war, did its government still not consider it highly likely? The source consulted in Lviv clarified that one thing is what the media published and another, the information that the Pentagon was transmitting to kyiv: “This was inaccurate, because they had long feared that what they provided us would end up in the knowledge of the Russians. ”.
Four months later, last Sunday, Zelensky announced the suspension of Ivan Bakanov as head of the SBU and Irina Venediktova as attorney general. Representatives of the United States Government have assured New York Times that Bakanov’s downfall was not due to information being leaked from his intelligence agencies to Russia. These sources also told the same newspaper that since the beginning of the war, US intelligence information no longer passes through the SBU, but goes directly to the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
Zelenski blames Bakanov and Venediktova for having allowed a leak of Russian collaborators in their respective departments. They have not been formally dismissed yet, only removed from office, according to what Andrii Smirnov, deputy head of the president’s office, reported on Monday, pending the completion of the ongoing investigations. “We all expected the necessary measures and even radical results from the heads of these two bodies,” Smirnov said. “However, we continue to find dozens of collaborators and traitors in both administrations, six months into the war,” he added.
Bakanov, a friend of Zelensky since his childhood, has been by his side since he became a famous actor until his jump into politics to become president in 2019. The sword of Damocles hung over Bakanov from the beginning of the Russian offensive . Christopher Miller, correspondent for Political in Ukraine, reported last June that Zelensky was already considering removing Bakanov. Zelensky lost confidence in him and the main reason, according to Politicalwas the loss of the city of Kherson, on the Black Sea coast, in a seen and not seen and without making strategic decisions that would stop the Russian advance.
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The dismissals ordered by Zelensky in key positions are not new. The president began impeachment proceedings in April against two SBU generals, the agency’s former head of internal affairs Andrii Naumov and the former head of secret services in Kherson Krivoruchko. In his daily message to the nation last Sunday, Zelensky recalled that he had previously fired the security chiefs for Crimea — annexed by Russia in 2014 — and the Kharkov province. In June, a high-ranking official working in the Council of Ministers was arrested, without his identity being made public, accused of treason. A July report by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on respect for human rights during the war confirmed that it has not been able to have access to most of the cases against those accused of collaborating with the enemy because are kept secret.
First political earthquake
The first political earthquake in Ukraine since the beginning of the war was caused on July 8 by United States Congresswoman Victoria Spartz. Ukrainian by birth, Spartz is an Indiana State Representative for the Republican Party. Spartz sent a letter to the president of the United States, Joe Biden, asking her to investigate the possible links with Russia of Andrii Yermak, Zelensky’s most trusted man and the first person in charge of his office.
Spartz’s accusations against Yermak are serious and were quickly rejected by both the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry and the Democratic Party. The congresswoman affirms that Yermak has provided information to Belarus, that he downgraded the information that Zelensky received about a possible invasion in February, sabotaged peace negotiations with Russia that he had led in Minsk, that he was the main person responsible for Kherson being easily taken and that it has expressly delayed the acquisition of weapons. Yermak was one of those responsible for the failure in 2019 of pressure from former US President Donald Trump for the Ukrainian government to invent an alleged corruption investigation against Biden and his son.
Yermak, Bakanov and Zelensky himself, their hard core, were harshly criticized in the past by the most nationalist Ukrainian sectors, led by former president Petro Poroshenko’s European Solidarity party, for considering them too conciliatory with Russia and for prioritizing alleged business interests over the enemy country. The criticism ended with the outbreak of war. Zelenski is today an untouchable character, although Poroshenko’s deputies have begun, little by little, to question his management. Volodymyr Ariev, a deputy from Poroshenko’s group, stated on his Twitter account that he gave credibility to the document presented by Spartz: “This is very serious, because this does not leave Congress without serious suspicion.” María Ionova, also a deputy for European Solidarity, assured on July 3 to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that in the future they will ask the Government for explanations for failures such as that of Kherson.
The political pressure on Zelenski increases as the months go by and the president weighs changes in the Government. The Minister of Social Affairs, Marina Lazebna, presented her resignation last week, accepted by Zelenski, and this Monday it was ratified by the Rada, the Ukrainian parliament. There have been no official explanations about her departure. In his daily message to the nation on Sunday, the president reiterated that his office would appoint a new anti-corruption prosecutor. The delay in the election of this figure was one of the most criticized aspects of his administration in the months prior to the invasion. The opposition held Yermak responsible for postponing the appointment.
Zelensky also relieved five diplomats of vital importance on July 9: the ambassadors to Germany, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Norway — four allies — and the ambassador to India, one of the few powers that have been close to Russia. The most controversial case was the dismissal of Andrij Melnik as head of the diplomatic mission in Berlin. Melnik publicly charged against the German government and against personalities in the country, accusing them of being little forceful with Russia. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the ambassador’s defense of Stepan Bandera, the Ukrainian ultra-nationalist leader during World War II. The Foreign Ministries of Poland and Israel made their complaints public. For a significant part of the Ukrainian citizenry, Bandera is above all a hero who fought for the country’s independence, while, according to the consensus of historians, he was an anti-Semitic, anti-Polish leader and collaborator with the Nazis.