Replacement of officials spotlights shadow war
Rivals seek to find disloyal elements within their ranks
The decision by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine to replace his head of domestic intelligence and another top official has cast a rare spotlight on the shadow war between Russia and Ukraine, two adversaries seeking to penetrate their rival’s security networks and gain critical intelligence.
While artillery duels and missile strikes have been the hallmark of the war ravaging Ukraine and the armies of both sides, a clandestine battle is taking place to root out and neutralize anyone deemed to be collaborating with the enemy.
Zelenskyy alluded to the battle in a televised speech late Sunday. In announcing the dismissal of Ivan Bakanov, the leader of Ukraine’s Security Service, and the removal of Iryna Venediktova, the prosecutor general, Zelenskyy noted that hundreds of treason investigations have been opened into employees of law enforcement agencies.
The president did not suggest that either of the officials he dismissed was suspected of treason; both are considered allies of Zelenskyy, and Bakanov and the president are childhood friends and former business partners.
Venediktova won international praise for her drive to gather war-crimes evidence against Russian military commanders and officials, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, over the destruction of Ukrainian cities and the killing of civilians.
But other officials in Zelenskyy’s government had blamed them for failing to effectively root out criminals working in the interests of Russia.
“Everyone has been waiting long enough for more concrete and, perhaps, radical results from the heads of these two bodies to cleanse these bodies of collaborators and state traitors,” a presidential aide, Andriy Smirnov, said on national television Monday morning in defending Zelenskyy’s decision to replace them. Acting heads of the two agencies have been appointed.
Ukraine had so far initiated 651 criminal proceedings against employees of law enforcement agencies, as well as the prosecutor’s office and pretrial investigation bodies over “treason and collaboration activities,” he said.
“Such an array of crimes,” Zelenskyy said, “pose very serious questions to the relevant leadership.”
While Ukraine is largely united in its opposition to Russia’s invasion, its deep cultural and historical ties with Russia have translated, in parts of the country, to pockets of support for Moscow.
This is true particularly in the south of Ukraine near the region of Crimea, which President Vladimir Putin annexed for Russia in 2014, and in parts of the east near the Russian border. Ukrainian officials have said those ties have translated into practical support for Russian forces since the invasion.
Zelenskyy on Sunday referred to “the transfer of secret information to the enemy, as well as other forms of cooperation with Moscow’s special services,” saying that everyone “that
worked in the interests of the Russian Federation will also be held accountable.”
Since the war began, more than 800 people suspected of engaging in sabotage and reconnaissance for Russian have been detained and handed over to the Security Service of Ukraine, Yevhen Yenin, First Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, said last month.
The Ukrainians recently foiled a Russian plot to target the leadership of the Ukrainian government, Yenin said, noting that there are now 123 countersabotage groups with a total of at
least 1,500 members operating as part of law enforcement agencies.
U.S. officials said Sunday that they have been working with Kyiv for years to improve its operational security and find Russian moles in the intelligence services.
Meanwhile, Russia pressed forward with its missile and shelling attacks, which Ukrainian officials said were designed to intimidate the civilian population and create panic. Ukraine’s presidential office said seven Ukrainian regions had suffered from attacks in the
previous 24 hours.
Ukraine’s Emergency Service said at least six people were killed by Russian shelling Monday targeting the city of Toretsk in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday as she began a series of high-profile appearances in Washington that will include a session with U.S. counterpart Jill Biden.