Europe Politics

Putin introduces martial law in illegally annexed Ukrainian regions

Key Points
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin introduced martial law in the four regions of Ukraine that Russia illegally annexed last month.
  • Martial law will be introduced in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.

President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday introduced martial law in the four regions of Ukraine that Russia illegally annexed last month.

Martial law will be introduced in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia — regions in Ukraine that Moscow claimed as Russian territory following sham referendums in September that Ukraine and its allies have condemned as illegal and illegitimate.

The decree, announced as Putin addressed a meeting of the Russian Security Council on Wednesday, will likely mean that the regions' civil administrations will be replaced by military ones.

Putin said all those regions should ensure that steps are taken to safeguard "critically important facilities" and said he had made the decision due to Kyiv's refusal to recognize the annexation of the four areas.

"Constitutional laws on the admission of four new regions into the Russian Federation have come into force. The Kyiv regime, as you know, refused to recognize the will and choice of people, rejects any proposals for negotiations. On the contrary, shelling continues. Civilians are dying," Putin said, according to comments reported by Russian state news agency Tass.

Putin said he had signed a decree on the introduction of martial law in these four regions and this will now be sent for approval by the Federation Council, or Senate.

Martial law is often introduced as a temporary measure when civil authorities are deemed to be in crisis and struggling to function. The breadth and scope of what is effectively a military takeover is yet to be detailed but martial law generally sees civil rights subsumed to military rule, though how far that changes the current situation for civilians in annexed regions in Ukraine remains to be seen.

In this case it appears the decree, published by the Kremlin, gives the authorities "powers to carry out mobilization measures in the economic sphere" in terms of "civil defense measures, protection of the population and territories from natural and man-made emergencies" and the power "to implement measures to meet the needs of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, other troops, military formations ... and the needs of the population."

A Ukrainian presidential advisor dismissed the declaration of martial law Wednesday, describing it as the "pseudo-legalization of looting of Ukrainians' property."

Pivotal moment

Putin's comments come at a pivotal moment in the conflict in Ukraine. Over the last couple of months, Ukraine's forces have made gains in the northeast and south of the country.

An attack on Russia's prized Kerch Strait Bridge linking the Russian mainland with annexed Crimea earlier this month also dealt a blow to Moscow, but it has since responded with a series of missile and drone attacks on various Ukrainian cities and energy infrastructure.

Russia attacks Ukrainian infrastructure as winter approaches
Russia attacks Ukrainian infrastructure as winter approaches

Even Sergei Surovikin, the new commander of Russian forces in Ukraine, has acknowledged that the military situation in Ukraine is difficult, particularly around the southern Kherson region, and characterized it as "tense" on Tuesday.

Russian-installed officials in the Kherson region appear to be worried too and have told residents to evacuate the region, saying Ukraine's forces could be about to launch another large-scale offensive.

Recalling the blowing up of the Crimean bridge, Putin claimed Wednesday that the Russian special services "suppressed terrorist attacks in other regions of Russia ... against transport and energy facilities" and called on the four annexed regions to take measures now to safeguard "critically important facilities."

Putin's announcement Wednesday puts Russia on an even firmer military footing domestically, with the president instructing Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin to work with Russia's regions to boost the country's war effort.

In particular, Putin announced an "economic mobilization" of eight regions bordering Ukraine, including Belgorod and Crimea, with the decree stating that this entails restrictions on the movement in and out of those territories (as well as within them), "strengthening" public order, ensuring the function of transport, energy facilities and communications systems (giving the authorities control "over the operation of printing houses, computer centers and automated systems, and the use of their work for defense needs") as well as being able to order the "temporary resettlement of residents to safe areas."