Top officials dismissed: what is Zelensky up to?

The Ukrainian president has suspended his secret service chief and childhood friend Ivan Bakanov as well as Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova, citing dozens of cases of suspected collaboration with Russia by officials in their agencies. Europe's press speculates about what is going on behind the scenes.

Open/close all quotes
Le Temps (CH) /

Secret service is a gateway for Russia

The reason why this decision was necessary is obvious, finds Le Temps:

“Is it the start of a dangerous family witch hunt? No, it is rather a reminder that these two positions now have a truly existential value for this country at war. As direct heirs of the Soviet era, the Ukrainian secret services are a popular gateway for the former KGB. Not so long ago, the former agents from Ukraine and Russia shared everything: the same training, the same methods, the same worldview. Russia would be stupid not to exploit this common past to the maximum.”

Irish Independent (IE) /

Deep-rooted problems

The purge reflects more than the fear of Russian spies and the frustration with the secret service, the Irish Independent believes:

“It also exposes long-running pre-war political tensions that were largely set aside after the February 24 invasion. ... Followers of Ukrainian politics will note that there are also political rivalries at play. Mrs Vendiktova's replacement as chief prosecutor, Oleksii Simonenko, is seen as being close to Mr Zelensky's chief of staff, Andreii Yermak. Over the years, Mr Yermak has been accused of a range of misdeeds, including stalling anti-corruption reforms. ... Hunting traitors and Russian spies is one thing. Navigating Ukraine's fractious domestic politics is quite another.”

Correio da Manhã (PT) /

Still opaque

Correio da Manhã wonders what is behind the dismissal of Iryna Venediktova:

“This is the biggest purge of high-ranking officials since the start of the war. The reasons for Bakanov's dismissal are clear; in Venediktova's case less so. ... The prosecutor general was in charge of the investigation into the atrocities against civilians in Bucha and Irpin. ... We should remember that the Ukrainian version of what happened in these places did not always convince all the foreign journalists in Kyiv. The restrictions imposed on the press until Zelensky had prepared the terrain point to an unacceptable conditionality as regards gathering testimonies about the events there. ... Venediktova's dismissal does not dispel these doubts.”

Novaya Gazeta Europe (RU) /

Sacked for being too assertive

According to Novaya Gazeta Europa, internal power games played a decisive role in the suspension of the prosecutor general:

“Sources in government circles named the reason why Venediktova allegedly fell out of favour: it was her tense relationship with the presidential administration and especially its head Andriy Yermak. It was the media activity of the prosecutor general, who in the united national TV channels' broadcasting marathon, is on air as often as the president, that aroused particular displeasure. Then there was her decision to expedite cases against Russian prisoners of war. This, according to participants in the negotiations with the Russians, could lead to Ukrainian prisoners going on trial in Russia and an end to prisoner exchanges.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

A failed experiment

Rzeczpospolita comments:

“Before working for the SBU, Bakanov had no experience in the security service, having been the head of the Kvaral 95 film studio which Zelensky owned. ... His appointment was criticised from the start: critics stressed that an institution that is responsible for the security of the entire country should be run by someone with experience in the field. The government camp countered that 'people outside the old system' would clean up the secret service and end corruption. It was an experiment. The same goes for Venediktova, a university professor who had never worked in public prosecution before. ... But apparently this experiment has failed under the conditions of war.”

Le Soir (BE) /

A new chapter

This is a momentous step, Le Soir believes:

“The collateral damage from this decision could weaken the coordination of the intelligence services at the highest state level, given how dependent Zelensky was on his friend Bakanov. Since the war started on 24 February, this is the first time the top tier of the Ukrainian state has been impacted by a purge. The nuances are critical: we are talking about a confidante of Zelensky, not a member of the government or a high-ranking military officer. This is a sign that Zelensky has decided to open a new chapter in protecting himself and above all Ukraine against the Russian threat.”