Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has fired the head of the SBU (internal security agency) and the chief prosecutor along with over sixty other officials and brought treason and collaboration charges against 651 SBU members and local officials. Most of those charged worked for the SBU.
The large number of people charged is the result of more Ukrainians reporting information leaks and collaboration with the Russians in Ukraine as well as the occupied territories, especially the ones that were seized in the first week of the Russian February invasion. There were also credible complaints from more recent members of the SBU that there were still a lot of SBU veterans who openly criticized government policy and condoned corruption, especially within the SBU.
The SBU is the successor to the Ukrainian branch of the KGB. After Ukrainian became independent in 1991, obvious KGB loyalists were fired but many vets remained and they perpetuated a culture of corruption along with the formidable deception and operational skills the KGB excelled in. The SBU is a large organization, with 35,000 employees. That is the same size as the American FBI, for a country with seven times more people. Equivalent European agencies, like DST in France and MI5 in Britain are equally small, relative to population, as the FBI. On a per-capita basis Western internal agencies have about 109 agency personnel per million population. For the Russian FSB it is 591 and for the SBU it is about 850. For the Soviet KGB it was 1,600.
The SBU, like its predecessor the KGB, demanded high performance and discipline. In return, KGB personnel were free to make a little extra on the side, The KGB was literally above the law as the only ones who could arrest KGB personnel were other KGB personnel. The post-Soviet FSB and SBU have similar immunities.
A growing number of the post-199os SBU hires were personnel who, like those who voted Zelensky into office in 2019, saw corruption as a major obstacle to Ukrainian prosperity and independence from Russian influence. Then came the 2022 invasion and NATO military aid and assistance, especially in intelligence collection. This monitored and decrypted (when needed) Russian communications relevant to Ukraine and shared much of that data with the Ukrainians. That data revealed many things, including evidence that turned suspicions of SBU treason into indictments. With leaky SBU members identified it was possible to identify many of their Ukrainian sources. It also sent a message to the SBU that the long sought culture shift in the organization was happening.
Life in wartime is one of extremes in courage and craven behavior. The courageous tend to be the majority, at least on the winning side and that’s where Ukrainians want to be. For Russians the war in Ukraine is all about gaining real estate and population. For Ukrainians the war is all about the survival of the Ukrainian state and its separate identity. Russia has been trying to erase that separate identity for centuries and this is something people in all nations can understand. Ukrainian have openly complained about Russian efforts to regain control of Ukraine after 1991. That’s what numerous independence movements in Ukrainian history are all about. The 2014 uprising of Ukrainians against a president who sold out to the Russians after promising closer ties to Europe and NATO did not end with the resignation of that president. The Russians kept trying and the Ukrainian kept resisting until 2022 when a desperate Russian leader risked another major defeat to absorb all of Ukraine back into Russia. It’s another example of the irresistible force going against the immovable object and, like the Germans in 1941, irresistible is often not enough.