Zelensky’s office issues clarification after Ukrainian president suggests he has fired 2 top officials

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky seemed to indicate Sunday that he had fired two high-level officials in his government: Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova and State Security Service chief Ivan Bakanov.

However, Andrii Smyrnov, deputy head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, later clarified Monday that the officials had been suspended, not permanently fired, pending an investigation.

In initially explaining why the officials had been dismissed, Zelensky cited instances of treason and collaboration with Russia among members of the departments they led.

“As of today, 651 criminal proceedings have been registered regarding treason and collaboration activities of employees of prosecutor’s offices, pretrial investigation bodies, and other law enforcement agencies,” Zelensky said Sunday.

“In 198 criminal proceedings, relevant persons were notified of suspicion. In particular, more than 60 employees of the prosecutor’s office and the Security Service of Ukraine remained in the occupied territory and are working against our state.”

“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,” the Ukrainian president added.

Zelensky then said he had removed Venediktova from office and dismissed Bakanov.

“Today I made a decision to remove the Prosecutor General from office and to dismiss the Head of the Security Service of Ukraine,” he said, according to CNN.

But Smyrnov issued a clarification in an appearance on Ukrainian television.

“Smyrnov said Monday that the pair have been suspended to ensure they did not interfere with the investigations. Zelensky will decide whether or not to submit a motion to dismiss them to Ukraine’s parliament, depending on the results of the probe,” CNN reported.

“In order to prevent the potential influence of these two officials on criminal proceedings, which are being investigated in relation to SBU employees who are suspected of cooperation with the aggressor country, and the same applies to the prosecutor’s office, the president made appropriate decisions,” Smyrnov explained, according to the BBC.

According to Politico, Bakanov was a childhood friend of Zelensky and the head of his presidential campaign. Venediktova was also a close ally to the president.