Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky abruptly dismissed two of the country’s top law enforcement officials earlier this week, accusing both of treason.

During his daily video address, the Ukrainian President said both officials lead spy-riddled agencies. While he did not personally identify them, Zelensky disclosed that further investigation found several more employees within the officials’ departments who were allegedly colluding with Russia.

“Such an array of crimes against the foundations of the national security of the state … pose very serious questions to the relevant leaders,” the president said. “Each of these questions will receive a proper answer.”

Later that day, the president’s office confirmed that these two officials were prosecutor general Iryna Venediktova and state secret service (SBU) director Ivan Bakanov, a childhood friend and former close adviser of Zelensky.

Iryna Venediktova
Zelenskyy has submitted to the Verkhovna Rada a draft document on the dismissal of Iryna Venediktova from the post of Prosecutor General of Ukraine. (Source: @Hromadske/Twitter)
Ivan Bakanov
On the other hand, the Ukrainian president also fired his close friend due to the alleged treason. (Source: @PaxMultipolaris/Twitter)

Zelensky also noted that the country has 651 criminal proceedings as of July 18, including personnel working under the prosecutor’s office, pretrial investigation bodies, and other law enforcement agencies.

According to a report, most of these employees “appear to be fallout from the loss of Kherson,” a significant economic center located in the south of Ukraine, which Russia seized early in this war. The fall of Kherson was among Moscow’s biggest and easiest invasions because of the alleged cooperation of these defectors, who provided crucial information about the region’s defenses to the aggressor.

Russia’s annexation plans in east Ukraine

Months after the war broke out, Kirill Stremousov, a Russian-appointed deputy head of the Kherson region, expressed to the Russian Federation his desire to let the city be part of their country as a direct annexation.

Russia has been working on taking over Ukraine for the past few years—first by absorbing the Crimean peninsula before further moving into the eastern provinces, including Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, and Luhansk. They were able to execute this by implanting pro-Russian officials in the Ukrainian government to reign over its political narrative. So what happens then if the Kremlin annexes these four states? First, they would gain access to the land border of eastern Ukraine, which eventually connects Russia with Crimea.

“Already, Russia is installing illegitimate proxy officials in areas of Ukraine that are under its control,” US National Security Council John Kirby said during a White House press briefing on Tuesday. He added that these proxy officials would then arrange sham elections on joining Russia, which the latter would use to “claim annexation” of Ukraine. Kirby further remarked that while Moscow did not disclose the timeline for the local elections, claimed territories said the referendum would take place later this year.

Once annexed, Ukrainians will be subjected to mandatory Russian citizenship and introduced to its monetary and economic system. In the occupied areas of Ukraine, Russia is already changing road and street signs to Russian language versions and requiring all residents to speak Russian.

The Russian army will also seize control of Ukraine’s broadcast towers and replace local telecommunications networks with Kremlin-approved ones, limiting civilian Internet access. They will also be able to track down suspected Ukrainians involved in resistance activities.

“If Russia nevertheless proceeds with their annexation plans, we are going to respond swiftly and severely and in lockstep with our allies and partners,” Kirby said during the press conference regarding Russia’s annexation plans of Ukraine.

Kirby emphasized that the United States and the rest of the international community “will never recognize any purportedly annexed territory as belonging to Russia,” and will treat such actions as illegal and illegitimate.

Purgin the Government of Spies

Zelensky has appointed two temporary replacements for the suspended pair on Monday, namely, Vasyl Maliuk and Oleksii Symonenko, who will lead the SBU and prosecutor’s office, respectively.

Moreover, a former head of the Main Directorate of the SBU in Crimea has been detained on suspicion of treason, Zelensky added. He stated that anyone who worked with the former directorate and then worked for the Russian Federation would be held accountable.

“It is about the transfer of secret information to the enemy and other facts of cooperation with the Russian special services,” Zelensky said.

This is the most extensive suspension and reshuffling of employees under Zelensky’s administration since the war began in February to purge the government. But will the incumbent president be successful in this quest?