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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has fired the country’s top prosecutor as well as the head of its security services, saying that suspected cooperation with Russia among employees of their offices raised “ very serious questions” about their leadership.
The move was the most significant leadership shake-up within Zelensky’s government since Russia launched its invasion about five months ago.
Iryna Venediktova, who was leading investigations into Russian war crimes, was removed from her position along with Ivan Bakanov, the security chief who had been blamed for military failures and was a childhood friend of Zelensky’s.
In his daily address Sunday night, Zelensky confirmed the firings of Venediktova and Bakanov, citing hundreds of criminal proceedings related to suspected treason among employees of the prosecutor’s office and other law enforcement agencies.
“Such an array of crimes against the foundations of the national security of the state and the connections detected between the employees of the security forces of Ukraine and the special services of Russia pose very serious questions to the relevant leadership,” Zelensky said. “Each of these questions will receive a proper answer.”
Politico reported last month that Zelensky was looking to fire Bakanov, who previously ran Zelensky’s entertainment company and presidential campaign.
Venediktova, who has served as prosecutor general since 2020, recently said that her office is investigating more than 23,000 war crimes cases.
She has also been a leading voice for holding Russia accountable on the international stage, as Ukraine and its allies are in the early stages of working out where and how to prosecute those responsible for Russian war crimes.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) launched an inquiry into war crimes in Ukraine soon after Russia’s invasion in late February, while the U.S. and 14 European Union member countries have also launched inquiries into the war.
Zelensky called on the ICC last week to launch a “special tribunal” to punish Russia.
The news of Venediktova’s firing comes about two years after her predecessor, Ruslan Ryaboshapka, was removed.
In an interview last year, Ryaboshapka claimed that his dismissal as prosecutor general was due to his refusal to investigate Hunter Biden at the request of former President Trump and Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani.
Top Kremlin official Dmitry Medvedev vowed earlier this month that the U.S. will face the “wrath of God” if it aids efforts to launch a tribunal to prosecute Russian forces.
Updated: 6:28 p.m.