Gee, it only took Volodomyr Zelensky 4 1/2 months to figure out he should not have put a childhood buddy in charge of Ukraine’s intelligence service. Ivan Bakanov is a political hack. He had no intelligence experience prior to the moment that Zelensky tagged him to be in charge of the SBU. Zelensky shook things up today:
Zelensky: “I have decided to remove the Prosecutor General, Iryna Venediktova, from office and to remove the head of the Security Service of Ukraine, Ivan Bakanov.”
As of today, 651 criminal proceedings have been registered regarding high treason and collaborative activities of employees of the prosecutor’s office, pre-trial investigation bodies, and other law enforcement agencies. Suspicion was reported to the relevant persons in 198 criminal proceedings.
In particular, more than 60 employees of the Prosecutor’s office and the SBU have remained in the occupied territory and are working against our state.
Such an array of crimes against the foundations of the national security of the state and the communications that are recorded between employees of the law enforcement agencies of Ukraine and the special services of Russia raise very serious questions to the relevant leaders. Each of these questions will receive a proper answer.”
The new head of the SBU, Vasily Malyuk, was the number two guy before ascending to the top spot. I suspect the British and US intelligence officials on scene may be more comfortable with Malyuk. Yet, scapegoating Bakanov for leaks of information that ostensibly led to such crushing blows as the defeat of the mercenary camp at the Yavorovsky training ground or the recent blow of the missile strike that hit the meeting of the Ukrainian Air Force command with foreign military in Vinnytsia, does not absolve Malyk of responsibility.
I have do doubt that Russia’s FSB penetrated Ukraine’s SBU and had several agents passing secrets along. However, we cannot rule out the possibility that Russia’s intelligence officers also fed false information to the Ukrainians that made innocent SBU officers appear to be collaborators or traitors. Instead of bringing order to an already suspect organization, Zelensky’s latest move is likely to spawn further chaos and distrust. Any SBU officer with a modicum of moxie will be looking over their shoulder wondering if they can trust their superiors.
The SBU has an additional problem–rounding up accused traitors leaves a gap in the field that is not easily nor quickly filled. It is reasonable to assume that the SBU officers accused of spying for Russia had been in the forward areas for a while and had established “trusted” contacts. That is all up in the air now. This move comes at an inopportune time. Ukraine desperately needs human intelligence from the frontlines as Russia ramps up its offensive. Zelensky’s move, whether justified or not, simply makes that task more difficult, if not impossible in the short term.