The middle of July furnished Ukrainian politicians with new impressions. Never in the recent history of Ukraine have the prosecutor general and the chairman of the SBU been removed from office at the same time. However, on July 19, Prosecutor General Irina Venediktova and the head of the Ukrainian special services, Ivan Bakanov, were dismissed by the Verkhovna Rada.
In Ukraine, both the head of the SBU and the prosecutor general are traditionally the strong arm of the president. Ivan Bakanov, among other things, is a childhood friend of Vladimir Zelensky and was head of his campaign headquarters during the presidential campaign. He headed the SBU at the end of August 2019, following the victory of the Servant of the People party in the parliamentary elections. Bakanov was promoted to the rank of junior lieutenant to create formal conditions for his appointment. In his post, he is likely best remembered for the «Medvedchuk case,» when the SBU to detained Putin’s godfather who escaped from house arrest in the confusion of the first days after Russia’s full-scale invasion. At the end of February 2022, Bakanov himself for some reason was out of the limelight.
Repeated attempts by Ukraine’s Western partners to adopt a new law («On the Security Service of Ukraine») capable of creating a European-style special service was met with resistance within the SBU. Ivan Bakanov’s authority was not recognized even after almost 35 months of his working there and after the start of a large-scale invasion his influence began to plummet. Two factors added fuel to the fire. In June, Andrey Naumov, the former head of the SBU’s Internal Security Department, was detained on the border of Serbia and North Macedonia. He left Ukraine just a few hours before the full-scale Russian invasion and there is reason to believe that he left with some information that would be of interest to the special services of many countries. Along with Naumov, the smuggler Alexander Akst, who was already known to the Ukrainian authorities, was detained. It is not known for certain what and to which special services Naumov gave testimony. On the eve of the decree on Bakanov’s dismissal, employees of the State Bureau of Investigation and the SBU detained Oleg Kulinich, who headed the SBU department in Crimea until March 2022, and was based for obvious reasons in Kherson. Kulinich is associated with parliamentarian Andriy Derkach, who has been named in Ukraine as a member of the Russian spy network.
The official reason for the chairman of the SBU’s removal from office was Article 47 of the Disciplinary Charter of the Armed Forces, which provides for punishment for improper performance of official duties that entailed human casualties. An official investigation in these cases should be conducted, the responsibility for which is the commander of the offender. In this case this is Volodymyr Zelensky. But the President of Ukraine preferred to overlook this. A few weeks ago, the Servant of the People loudly stated that there were no complaints against the SBU, nor could there be.
In place of Bakanov, Vasily Malyuk, who has been connected to the special services for 20 years, became the head of the SBU. According to his official biography, he began serving in the SBU at the age of 18. In March 2022, Maliuk was appointed first deputy chairman of the SBU did not get along very well with Bakanov. On the other hand, among SBU employees, the new chief (albeit an acting chief) will be regarded more highly than the previous head. Still, the political appointment of a «pure» politician to the leadership of the SBU, but with experience in the system of state power, should not be ruled out. Malyuk is currently acting chairperson of the SBU.
Oleksiy Simonenko was appointed Acting Prosecutor General by presidential decree. Before Venediktova was removed, he served as her deputy, signed a document accusing Petro Poroshenko of high treason at the end of last year, and was remembered for transferring the case against Oleg Tatarov from the NABU to the SBU. Both Simonenko and Malyuk are cited as proteges of Oleg Tatarov, the deputy head of the President’s Office, who was an official at the Ministry of Internal Affairs during the Revolution of Dignity. Tatarov’s comments regarding the protesters seemed to block his path to public service, but in 2020 he became Andriy Yermak’s deputy. It is Tatarov who is considered the coordinator of law enforcement agencies within the office of the president, from which he can actively influence their work.
On July 19, the Verkhovna Rada (whose meetings after February 24 have been closed to the press, without television broadcasts) dismissed Ivan Bakanov and Irina Venediktova from their positions. Bakanov did not come to parliament, limiting himself to a pretentious farewell letter on the SBU website. Venediktova, emphasizing that she had nothing to fear, visited the parliamentary platform. There were no sensational events, apart from the Servant of the People’s mono-majority faction once again being forced to resort to the assistance of its «satellites» to resolve the personnel issue. Without former representatives of the Opposition Platform for Life and associates of Igor Kolomoisky, it would have been impossible to conduct this staff shuffling. The leader of the Servant of the People parliamentary faction, David Arakhamia, suggested that Venediktova was hoping for a diplomatic career, which introduces a tragicomic element into the situation. It should be noted that the Prosecutor General did not write a letter of resignation willingly and that there are procedural violations involved in her dismissal.
An interesting coincidence is that it was on July 19 that the competition for the election of the head of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAP) formally ended. Alexander Klimenko, the NABU investigator who most recently investigated the offenses of Oleg Tatarov, was officially declared the winner. The process of approval of the head of the SAPO lasted more than a year. As a result, its completion became one of the conditions for Ukraine to maintain the status of a candidate for EU membership. For the new head of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office to begin working, the signature of the Prosecutor General, or someone acting in that capacity, must be viewed. Volodymyr Zelenskyy has yet to introduce any ideas on who will serve as the actual heads of the SBU and the Office of the Prosecutor General.
The story of the reshuffling of the law enforcement agencies after its formalization within the parliamentary walls has shifted somewhat in tone. From a dangerous resemblance to the usurpation of power (perhaps after the shouting of Western partners), it has morphed into a narrative of «wartime appointees» who will line up behind the all-powerful authority in the presidential office. Unfortunately, the Zelensky team does not understand that any tricks with democratic procedures during wartime are unacceptable. And the principle of «war has a canceling effect» may not work, especially in a confrontation with Russia. The Kremlin, as is well known, is much more adept at information operations and banal bribery than it is with successes on the battlefield.
Evgen MAHDA, iSANS, specially for Reform.by
Материал доступен на русском языке: Кадриль Зеленского. Военный вариант