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Why Venediktova and Bakanov were removed from office and how it will increase Yermak’s influence

Olexiy Haran
professor of political science at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy
Photo: The Page collage

Photo: The Page collage

Why Venediktova and Bakanov can no longer head the GPU and SBU

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy removed Ivan Bakanov, Head of Ukraine's Security Service, and Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova from their positions. What are these decisions connected with, and are they related to the delay in the appointment of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor?


A friend of Zelenskyy and a number three on the electoral list

When talking about these two people, Venediktova and Bakanov, we should keep in mind the differences in their political background.

Bakanov was Zelenskyy’s long-time colleague in the Kvartal 95 Studio and one of his oldest friends. No doubt, his appointment as the head of the SSU was a political one, although, interestingly, he didn't even serve in the army and had no army rank. So he was urgently commissioned as a lieutenant so that he could be appointed at least formally.

However, there are cases when politicians are appointed as chiefs of law enforcement and security agencies, which is quite common in the West. It’s clear that Bakanov was appointed because Zelenskyy had confidence in him.

As for Venediktova, she appeared during Zelenskyy’ electoral campaign. She aspired to become a judge of the Supreme Court but didn’t qualify.

I think the appointment of Venediktova is a vivid example of a person being picked not for being professional but for being loyal. She was number three on the list, and it wasn’t for her professionalism.

While we could say about Bakanov that he was a good lawyer when he managed the legal issues of Kvartal 95, Venediktova was simply lucky enough to get on a train to the parliament by getting to Zelenskyy’s list.

She was appointed right after Ruslan Riaboshapka was fired, a man whom Zelenskyy called a "100% my prosecutor", but it turned out he wasn’t 100%. That means he at least tried to abide by the law. In particular, he didn't want to proceed with the so-called Poroshenko case because there wasn’t enough evidence in it. As for Venediktova, Zelenskyy thought she was the one who could do it.

By the way, that was what we saw, because in a time of war, when politicians are supposed to declare a moratorium on mutual political struggle, the President's Office on Bankova Street launched another attack on Poroshenko.

What was the reason behind the removal?

Did Bakanov and Venediktova do their jobs well? Obviously, they didn’t, although we don’t know enough about it since the information is classified. We can only assume what happened.

We have a question about how the enemy managed to take Kherson so quickly. However, I think this question should rather be addressed to the Supreme Commander-in-Chief than to the SSU: why did our army appear to be unprepared for the offensive from the south?

It appeared to be unprepared for the offensive from the north as well, as President’s Chief of Staff Andrii Yermak openly said that we didn’t await an attack from Belarus, although we should’ve reckoned on it. However, we’ve managed to regain our North, while in the South we’re having tragical outcomes. And it’s absolutely unclear how Russian tanks could pass through Perekop and Chonhar on their way from Crimea so quickly.

Once again, it’s rather a question to the Supreme Commander-in-Chief than to the SSU, but nevertheless, we can assume that there was much left to be done there, and, quite possibly, Zelenskyy was right in his reproof, which resulted in the suspension of both Bakanov and Venediktova for the period of internal investigation.

But there’s also a paradox: we see who is provisionally appointed in their places — it’s Vasyl Maliuk in the SSU, who is thought to belong to the stable of Oleh Tatarov (deputy head of the President’s Office — The Page), and Oleksii Symonenko as acting Prosecutor General, also from the same stable. And this raises even more questions.

Yermak’s influence increases

Neither Bakanov, nor his deputies, nor Venediktova were drawn from a pool not controlled by Bankova, and in the first place by Yermak. If the newly appointed people are close to Tatarov, it means that Yermak actually continues to monopolize power in his hands.

While Bakanov, being Zelenskyy’s old friend, could still somehow balance Yermak’s influence, now we can say that the balance is broken. And the danger is that Yermak surrounds himself with people who were responsible for the formation of the law enforcement and security block and will bear this responsibility further.

Therefore, unfortunately, considering political aspects, I think it means the personal strengthening of Yermak and further consolidation of power in the hands of the one who is the only channel of communication that influences Zelenskyy. And since Yermak is this only channel, it means that neither Yermak nor Zelenskyy want to get rid of such disreputable people as Tatarov.

Appointment of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor

As to the connection with the appointment of the head of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO), I heard that Zelenskyy is now willing to appoint the one who was chosen, i.e. won the competition, and not Bankova’s candidate, who scored second. The President allegedly doesn’t know who and why impeded the appointment of the winner. But we know why — because he wasn’t Bankova’s favorite.

Now, the situation has obviously turned out so that there’s no backing out, especially because we’ve been granted candidate status for EU membership and the European commission demanded that we appoint the winner of the competition. Despite Bankova’s unwillingness, it’s clear to see that Bankova's candidate won’t be declared the winner. However, he will be the deputy.

Later, we’ll see to what extent the SAPO head will be independent and able to abide by the law, not instructions given over the telephone.

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