What is the importance of Kiev
What does martial law mean for Ukraine?
The fact that martial law is being declared in parts of Ukraine in the fifth year of the armed conflict with Russia has astonished many observers. It was also debated for hours in the Ukrainian parliament. In his decree, the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko finally reduced the duration of martial law from 60 to 30 days. In addition, it will only apply in ten regions bordering Russia and Transnistria and not nationwide. Parliament showed that it was in agreement with this with a clear majority. Poroshenko also assured that, despite martial law, the presidential elections will take place on March 31, 2019, as stipulated by the constitution, whereupon the parliament passed a resolution.
A military incident on Sunday heightened tensions between Moscow and Kiev in the Sea of Azov. In the Kerch Strait, a strait off the Russian-annexed Crimean peninsula, the Russian coast guard had refused to allow ships of the Ukrainian navy and rammed one of the boats. While Kiev speaks of military aggression, from Moscow's point of view the ships entered Russian territorial waters illegally. So calling out martial law in Ukraine was initially seen by critics as an attempt to postpone the elections and curtail citizens' rights.
"An Appropriate Response"
Observers in Kiev speak of a timely and necessary compromise in connection with the imposition of martial law. Martial law makes it possible to improve defense capabilities and eliminate threats, said Yuriy Jakymenko from DW's Razumkov Research Center in Kiev. He stressed that the compromise had also made it clear that Ukraine was not deviating from the democratic path.
According to Yakymenko, there are fears in Ukrainian society that against the background of the threat of a military invasion, the constitutional rights and freedoms that Ukrainians defended five years ago with the Revolution of Dignity on the Kiev Maidan - namely freedom of choice, freedom of movement - could be lost and freedom of speech.
According to the expert, "hybrid martial law" is an appropriate response by Ukraine to Russia's hybrid war. "This is a strong response to Russia, which had hoped to destabilize the situation in Ukraine by postponing the elections," said Yakymenko. Preserving democratic procedures and guaranteeing the rights and freedoms of citizens even under the terms of martial law will, in his opinion, strengthen Ukraine's position in the international arena.
Test for a month?
But will martial law actually strengthen the country's defenses? Neither the decision of the National Security and Defense Council nor the presidential decree states how exactly martial law is to be applied in the affected regions of the country.
Volodymyr Horbatsch from the Ukrainian Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation believes that the Ukrainian authorities should take control of important energy infrastructure objects for the duration of martial law. That is a "weak point". "The state should have direct control over the energy system in these regions, over the thermal power plants, the coal industry, the gas companies, over the areas of the economy that are now controlled by Ukrainian oligarchs who act in the interests of Russia," said the expert.
Mychajlo Honchar from the Ukrainian Center for Global Studies "Strategy XXI" considers the martial law, which has been imposed for a limited period in ten regions, to be a "test" against the background of a possible Russian invasion. The events in the Sea of Azov had shown that Moscow was only looking for an opportunity to intervene in Ukraine. "That is why we have to reorganize the defense system in the coming month. How is stated in secret clause 12 of the presidential decree," said Hontschar. The expert suspects that military reconnaissance is being intensified in the regions by the sea. The logistical provision of weapons and troops as well as military administration in the most threatened regions could also be practiced.
What can the affected regions expect?
Transport Minister Volodymyr Omeljan said that in the ten regions affected by martial law, the protection of train stations, airports, ports and other infrastructure objects will be strengthened. In addition, special rules would apply to rail transport. According to the minister, they should ensure that there is sufficient capacity in the railway network to be able to transport the necessary material for defense purposes.
The Ukrainian Minister of Social Policy, Pavlo Rosenko, assured that martial law in some regions of the country would in no way affect the payment of pensions, wages and social benefits. The head of the National Bank, Jakiw Smolij, emphasized that the banking system would not be affected by martial law either.
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