As a response to the recent provocation of Russia in the Sea of Azov, President Administration decided to impose martial law. That night, a meeting of the National Security and Defense Council was held on this issue, at which Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko decided to appeal to the Verkhovna Rada so that MPs could approve the introduction of martial law for 60 days. According to the Law of Ukraine "On the legal regime of martial law," it could be introduced all over Ukraine and in certain parts of the country.
The attention of domestic media is focused on the consequences of imposing martial law for the Ukrainian citizens, their property, cars, housing and offices that could be used by the soldiers and officers. However, the problem lays elsewhere. That there is no acute and vital need to impose martial law in Ukraine and its individual areas. If we talk about the real need of the martial law, it was necessary to introduce it in 2014 after the annexation of Crimea or full-scale military actions in Donbas, when the Ukrainian military and volunteers were surrounded by the aggressor's forces in Debaltseve, Ilovaisk, Izvarino, and the Russian military launched an offensive and captured Novoazovsk. Introducing martial law seems to be meaningless not. Even without imposing a special legal regime, the industry and political life of the Ukrainian front-line areas had already adapted to the consequences of the Russian aggression and economic crisis, which had a particularly negative impact on business and the standard of living in eastern Ukraine.
The incident in the Sea of Azov, namely Russian warship’s ramming of a Ukrainian tugboat and the seizure of two boats together with the crew, is a local incident, not full-scale hostilities. If the government refrained from martial law four years ago, introducing it now seems to be at least strange. For example, no one even remembered about the martial law, when on September 1, the Russian side detained Amadore Ukrainian bulk carrier near Berdyansk, on its way from Mariupol (at that time, it was the 99th arrest of the ship in the Sea of Azov since May of this year).
Martial law plays into hands of Russia
The situation in the Sea of Azov and in the area of the Joint Forces Operation in Donbas will not change even if the martial law is declared. It would be wrong to say that Russia seizes the Sea of Azov. The seas cannot be captured but controlled through the occupation of islands, peninsulas between which navigable straits are located. After the annexation of Crimea, Russia has established full control over the Kerch Strait, connecting the Sea of Azov with the outside world (not counting the Volga-Don Canal and the possibility to navigate to the Caspian Sea). Russia has been controlling the Sea of Azov for four years. Poroshenko’s actions somehow look like a backlash. Russia has organized a provocation in order to threat the Ukrainian and to find a reason to close shipping through the Kerch Strait. Kerch was briefly closed immediately after the incident.
The goal of Russia is to cause economic damage to the Ukrainian ports in Mariupol and Berdyansk, which are the key local facilities, employing several thousand Ukrainians. After Russia began to detain vessels moving to Ukraine, the turnover of the Mariupol commercial port was reduced by half, and its employees were forced to find a new job. Russia benefits from the worsening of the economic situation in Ukraine’s front-line zone, rising unemployment rate, and dissatisfaction with the current government.
Martial law, which provides for various restrictions, only keeps pouring gas on the fire. Small and medium businesses are already expressing concerns about the negative impact of martial law on business activity in the front-line cities. For foreign counterparties who do not greatly delve into the subtleties of the political situation in Ukraine, martial law is associated with instability, the threat of hostilities. There is a threat of disruption of foreign economic contracts, slowing down the implementation of investment projects.
If we talk about preventing the threat of Russia from the sea, then it makes sense to strengthen the coastal defense of the Ukrainian Azov region and to allocate funds for the maintenance of mobile coastal missile systems in order to turn the approaching Russian landing craft into ashes. The Sea of Azov has a small area and is inconvenient for maneuvers, and even the presence of Ukrainian warships will not allow securing shipping since Russia simply blocks the Strait of Kerch.
Ukraine’s current government might obtain great political benefits from imposing martial law The elections cannot be held and the Constitution cannot be amended. Apparently, the president is following the example of his Turkish counterpart Recep Erdogan, who has imposed a state of emergency after an attempt of a military coup in Turkey in July 2016 and during its launching until July 2018, he carried out purges in the army and state apparatus, strengthened the power, weakened positions of opposition and prepared for the general election, which he won. Erdogan has used the unsuccessful attempt of a military coup as a pretext for martial law, Poroshenko uses the recent Azov crisis as an argument.
Apparently, in Poroshenko’s faction in the parliament, as well as the National Front faction have concerns about their defeat in the presidential and parliamentary elections. There is a threat that after the elections the presidential party might lose its leading role in the ruling coalition or even be out of this coalition. Poroshenko needs martial law in order to take a pause, postpone the elections, and get prepared for them. The president is trying to consolidate the electorate around Russia's aggression, he has stepped up international actions as well. On his initiative, an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council is held, and the possibility of tightening anti-Russian sanctions is being considered.
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