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Ukraine War Latest: Zelenskiy appoints new spy chief after Russian infiltration

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Ukraine’s president has appointed an experienced security official as acting head of the domestic security agency after a shake-up that has renewed questions over Russian intelligence infiltration of key ministries and suggested divisions within Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s inner circle.

After recent anonymous briefings against Zelenskiy’s childhood friend Ivan Bakanov – who had been in charge of the 30,000-strong state security service, the SBU, since 2019 – over claims of failure to counter Russian infiltration, he was abruptly suspended on Sunday along with the prosecutor general, Iryna Venediktova, who had been leading war crimesinvestigations.

Zelenskiy announced on Monday that Bakanov would be replaced by Vasyl Maliuk, a former first deputy head of the SBU who led the anti-corruption and organised crime unit of the agency’s central directorate.

While the reason cited for the dismissals was the claim of widespread Russian collaboration in the two departments, it also appears to reflect jostling for influence around the president among key players.

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Zelenskiy, feted on the world stage as a wartime leader, had been dogged domestically before the invasion by accusations that he had appointed inexperienced outsiders, including friends, to jobs in which they were out of their depth.

Zelenskiy recently dismissed ambassadors to five countries including Germany, and several other envoys including those to Hungary, Norway, the Czech Republic and India. And last month, there was a public spat with the head of his armed forces.

Bakanov in particular was regarded as close to Zelenskiy, having grown up in the same city of Kryvyi Rih. He worked for Zelenskiy’s Studio Kvartal-95 production company and ran the former actor’s campaign headquarters during his presidential bid. At the time of his appointment, he was accused of holding a leading position in a private company registered in Spain in an apparent breach of Ukraine’s anti-corruption legislation.

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While observers suggest that one motive is to demonstrate to the Ukrainian public that Zelenskiy will not tolerate underperformance, hostile briefings against key figures have ticked up in recent weeks.

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Initial reports suggested that the pair had been fired, but Andriy Smyrnov, Zelenskiy’s deputy chief of staff, clarified that they had been suspended. “Everyone has been waiting long enough for more concrete and, perhaps, radical results from the heads of these two bodies to cleanse them of collaborators and traitors,” he said. “However, in the sixth month of the war, we continue to find dozens of such people at each of these institutions.”

 

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