It is a conversation that has been repeated in Kyiv for months. “When this is over, there will be questions to answer,” a resident told me in May. “Questions such as: how did they take the south so quickly?”
Suspicions of double-dealing burst into the open on Sunday when the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) arrested Oleh Kulinych, the body’s own former chief of Crimean affairs, on suspicion of high treason.
Hours later, Volodymyr Zelensky dismissed Ivan Bakanov, the country’s chief spy, and Irina Venediktova, the prosecutor general, citing the large number of staff at their agencies in occupied territories who had switched sides to work with Russia.
The dramatic reshuffle reflects growing government frustration with the performance of Ukraine’s security service and concerns about its penetration by Russian spies. It also exposes long-running pre-war political tensions that were largely set aside after the February 24 invasion.
Mr Zelensky appointed Mr Bakanov, a childhood friend, to head the SBU in 2019. Like the president, Mr Bakanov was a performer and the appointment was widely criticised.
But the SBU had been struck by a series of scandals and there was an argument that someone from outside the shadowy security world would be better placed to act as a new broom.
With around 30,000 agents, the successor agency to the Soviet-era KGB in Ukraine is seven times the size of MI5 and has a vast brief that extends from counter-terrorism and fighting organised crime to running espionage and counter-espionage operations.
Mr Bakanov told Ukrainian MPs that he would need three years to reform it. His dismissal on Sunday reflects a belief in Mr Zelensky’s Kyiv office that he failed.
Vasyl Maliuk, his temporary replacement, is a career security service officer.
Mr Kulinych, the former head of the SBU’s Crimea operations, is the latest of a series of high-ranking officers to be suspected of treason since the invasion. The role of “collaborators” in Russia’s rapid progress in the south has been hotly debated.
Followers of Ukrainian politics will note that there are also political rivalries at play. Mrs Vendiktova’s replacement as chief prosecutor, Oleksii Simonenko, is seen as being close to Mr Zelensky’s chief of staff, Andreii Yermak.
Mr Yermak has over the years been accused of a range of misdeeds including stalling anti-corruption reforms and sabotaging an operation to arrest Russian mercenaries.
No evidence has emerged. But those allegations were resurrected last week when Victoria Spartz, a Ukrainian-born American congresswoman, wrote to US President Joe Biden demanding to know why the US was working with him and his deputy for law enforcement and anti-corruption reform, Oleh Tatarov.
Mr Simonenko is widely accused of stalling an investigation into alleged bribery by Mr Tatarov by handing it over to the SBU.
Hunting traitors and Russian spies is one thing. Navigating Ukraine’s fractious domestic politics is quite another.
Telegraph Media Group Limited