Two top officials removed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy have been suspended pending investigations but have not been formally dismissed, a senior presidential aide said.
On Sunday, Zelenskyy said Ivan Bakanov had been removed as head of the SBU domestic security agency and Iryna Venediktova had been removed as prosecutor general, citing dozens of cases of collaboration with Russia by officials in their agencies.
Andriy Smyrnov, deputy head of the presidential office, told Ukrainian television on Monday that Venediktova had been suspended and Bakanov had been “temporarily removed from fulfilling his duties” while “checks and investigations” are carried out.
Asked whether the two officials could return to their jobs if the investigations exonerate them, he said: “We live in a law-abiding country, and of course I can conceive of (the possibility of) this.”
Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher, reporting from the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, said investigations are under way regarding the two officials, and if concrete allegations were found against them, Zelenskyy will ask Ukraine’s parliament to dismiss them from their posts.
“It is unusual for Zelenskyy to make changes like this – before the war, his cabinet was like a revolving door, but since the war started he has kept by and large the same group around him including these two very senior figures,” Fisher said.
The orders late on Sunday suspending Bakanov, a childhood friend of Zelenskyy, and Venediktova, who led the effort to prosecute Russian war crimes in Ukraine, were published on the president’s official website.
In a separate Telegram post, Zelenskyy said he had suspended the top officials because many cases had come to light of members of their agencies collaborating with Russia.
He said 651 treason and collaboration cases had been opened against prosecutorial and law enforcement officials, and that more than 60 officials from Bakanov and Venediktova’s agencies were now working against Ukraine in Russian-occupied territories.
“Such an array of crimes against the foundations of the national security of the state … pose very serious questions to the relevant leaders,” Zelenskyy said.
“Each of these questions will receive a proper answer,” he said.
Zelenskyy replaced Venediktova with her deputy Oleksiy Symonenko as the new prosecutor general in a separate executive order that was also published on the president’s site.