Spy hunt or witch hunt? Ukrainians fear the two are merging

KYIV ̵1; From a glass cage in a Kiev courtroom, Roman Dudin loudly proclaims his innocence.

And he was angered by the unusual decision to bar some journalists from asking him questions midway through the hearing.

The former Kharkiv security chief is facing charges of treason and abdication, charges he and his supporters vehemently deny.

“Why can’t I talk to the press?” He shouted. As he shook his head in frustration, his lawyers, a handful of local reporters and supporters answered his question. In previous hearings Dudin was allowed during a break to answer questions from journalists, in keeping with normal Ukrainian court practice, but according to his lawyers and local journalists, Politico’s presence appeared to demoralize the authorities .

Suspiciously, the judge also returned and to the surprise of the courtroom announced an unexpected adjournment, giving no reason. An uproar ensued as soon as he left, and further allegations followed when court guards again prevented reporters from speaking with Dudin.

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Ukraine’s search for traitors, double agents and accomplices is intensifying.

Almost every day there is another publicized case by officials of alleged treason by senior members of security and law-enforcement agencies, prosecutors, employees of state industry, mayors and other elected officials.

Few Ukrainians – nor Western intelligence officials, for that matter – suspect that a large number top notch double agent And the sympathizers made it easier for the Russians to invade, especially in southern Ukraine, where they were able to gain control of the city of Kherson with hardly any resistance.

And Ukrainian authorities say they are just beginning in their espionage hunt for individuals who have betrayed the country and are still undermining Ukraine’s safety and security.

Due to historical ties with Russia, Ukraine’s Security Service and other security agencies, as well as the country’s arms and energy industries, are known to be full of spies. Since the Maidan uprising of 2013–14, in which Viktor Yanukovych, Moscow’s satrap, was ousted in Ukraine, episodic sweeps and purges have been mounted.

As the conflict escalates, purification becomes more urgent. and possibly more political as the government criticism grows Opposition politicians and civil society leaders. They are publicly becoming more censorious, accusing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his tight-knit team of using the war to consolidate as much power as possible.

Volodymyr Zelensky said authorities were investigating more than 650 cases of suspected treason and aiding and abetting Russia by officials. Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Last summer, Zelensky Many high level officials were sacked, including his top two law enforcement officials, Prosecutor General Irina Venediktova and Security Chief Ivan Bakanov, both old friends of his. In a national address, he said that authorities were investigating more than 650 cases of suspected treason and 60 cases of aiding and abetting Russia by officials who remained in territories seized by Russia and “were part of our state”. working against.”

“Such a large number of crimes against the foundations of national security and the established connections between Ukrainian law enforcement officers and Russian special services raise very serious questions,” he said.

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But while there is considerable evidence of treason and collaboration, there is growing unease in Ukraine that not all cases and allegations are legitimate.

Some suspect that the espionage hunt is now merging into a political witch hunt. They fear that the searches could increasingly be linked to politics or personal vendettas or in a bid to cover up corruption and wrongdoing. But also to divert attention from growing questions about the government’s invulnerability to invasion by a vengeful and angry Russia.

Among the cases causing concern when it comes to the cover-up of corruption is a case against 40-year-old Roman Dudin. “Something is wrong with this matter,” Ivanna Klyampush-Sintsadze, a former deputy prime minister of Ukraine and now opposition lawmaker, told POLITICO.

And that’s the view of the few supporters who were in attendance at last week’s hearing. “This is a political persecution, and he is a very good officer, honest and dignified,” said Irina, 50, whose son, now living in Florida, served with Dudin. “He is a politically independent person and he was under investigation for corruption involving the Kharkiv mayor and some other powerful politicians, and this is a way of stalling those investigations,” he argued.

Zelensky last May relieved Dudin of his duties, saying he “didn’t work to defend the city from the first days of a full-scale war.” But curiously Dudin was not detained and charged for four months and arrested only in September last year. Dudin’s lead lawyer, Oleksandr Kozhevnikov, says that neither Zelensky nor his SBU superiors complained about his work before he was fired.

“To say the evidence is weak is an understatement – ​​it just doesn’t correspond to reality. He received few awards and recognition from the Ministry of Defense for his efforts before and during the war,” says Kozhevnikov. “When I agreed to consider taking the case, I told Roman that if there was any hint of treason, I would drop it immediately – but I found none,” he said.

The State Bureau of Investigation says that Dudin “instead of working to counter the enemy … actually engaged in sabotage.” It claims that he believes the Russian “invasion will be successful” and expects the Russian authorities to treat him favorably because of his sabotage, which includes the “deliberate creation of conditions” that allow the invaders to enter Kharkiv. Enables confiscation of weapons and equipment from security service bases. In addition, he is alleged to have left his post without permission, illegally ordered his staff to leave the area, and destroyed a secure communication system for contact with Kiev.

But documents obtained by Politico from relevant Ukrainian agencies undermine the allegations. One testifies that there was no damage to the secure communication system; And a document from the Ministry of Defense states that Dudin dispensed weapons from the local SBU arsenal to the Territorial Defense Forces. “The local battalions are grateful to him for handing over the weapons,” says Kozhevnikov.

And his lawyer says Dudin left Kharkiv only because he was ordered by superiors to go to Kiev to help defend Ukraine’s capital. A geo-located video of Dudin in uniform with other SBU officers in the center of Kiev, ironically a stone’s throw from the Pechersk District Court, has been ruled as unacceptable by the judge. The defense has asked the judge to recuse himself because of his academic ties to Oleh Tatarov, a deputy head of the presidential administration, but the request has been denied.

According to a 29-page document compiled by defense attorneys for the final trial, Dudin and his subordinates appear to have been proactive in countering Russia’s forces as soon as the first shot was fired, killing 24 saboteurs. Captured, identified and executed 556 collaborators. Reconnaissance on Russian military movements.

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Roman Dudin, the former head of the Directorate of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) in the region east of Kharkiv, faces charges of treason and paving the way for Russian invaders. Jamie Detmer for Politico

According to defense lawyers, timely information provided by the SBU helped military and intelligence units stop an armored Russian column entering the city of Kharkiv.

“The only order he didn’t fulfill was to move his 25-strong Alpha special forces team to the front lines, because they needed to catch saboteurs,” says Kozhevnikov. “The timing of his removal is suspicious – it was while he was investigating allegations being made by some powerful politicians of humanitarian aid.”

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Even before Dudin’s case, doubts were growing about some of the allegations of treason – including vague charges against former prosecutor Venediktova and former security chief Bakanov. Both were accused by some within their departments of failing to stop the collaboration. But in November Venediktova was suddenly appointed Ukraine’s ambassador to Switzerland. And two weeks ago, the State Bureau of Investigation said the agency had found no criminal wrongdoing by Bakanov.

The clean-up of the two, with little explanation after their humiliating and highly public dismissals, has inspired astonishment. However, some SBU insiders blame Bakanov for inaction in sweeping for spies before the Russian invasion.

Treason is often a well-known charge – whether justified or not – and used reflexively.

Last month, many Ukrainian soldiers were charged with treason For inadvertently revealing information during an unauthorized mission that enabled Russia to target a military airfield.

Troops tried to seize a Russian warplane without permission in July after its pilot indicated he wanted defect. The Ham-Fed Mission May Have Been, But Lawyers Say It Wasn’t Treasonous.

Spy Hunt or Witch Hunt? With the word treason slipping around easily these days in Kiev, defense lawyers in the Pechersk District Court worry that the two are merging.