The Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine’s parliament) adopted a law on November 26, 2018, approving a presidential decree on the introduction of martial law in Ukraine. The law is imposed in Vinnytsia, Luhansk, Mykolaiv, Sumy, Odesa, Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Donetsk, Zaporizhia and Kherson region as well as in the inland waters of Azov and Kerch waters from November 26 to December 26, 2018.
The Ukraine Government decided to introduce martial law after Russia had captured two Ukrainian artillery boats and a tugboat near the Kerch Strait in the Black Sea on November 25, 2018. Addressing the nation, President Poroshenko alleged that “Russia has been waging a hybrid war against our country for five years. But with an attack on Ukrainian military boats, it moved to a new stage of aggression. And this attack, of course, is not accidental.”1
Following the logic and statement of Poroshenko, the Martial Law should have been introduced in the year 2014 itself when the rebels seized parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and Crimea was integrated by Russia and which has cost more than a thousand lives. The common people in the street of Ukraine asked the questions that why the government did not impose martial law since then and why now when only a few days remain before the start of Presidential elections.
The general provisions of martial law in Ukraine have outlined in the law “On the legal regime of martial law” which the parliament passed the bill in 2015. In a nutshell, it states that in connection with the introduction of martial law in Ukraine, constitutional human rights and freedoms stipulated by Articles 30-34, 38, 39, 41-44, 53 of the Constitution of Ukraine may be temporarily limited, for the period of the legal regime of martial law.
For instance, Article 1 of “On the Legal Regime of Martial Law” which define the Martial Law clearly stipulate that “It also involves temporary (threat determined) restrictions of human constitutional rights and freedoms as well as the rights and legitimate interests of all legal persons with an indication of the period of effectiveness for these restrictions.”2 It is also important to clarify that in the period of martial law, the powers of the president cannot be terminated. If the term of office of the head of state expires during martial law, he continues his work until the expiration of martial law.3 This indicates that President Poroshenko has finally succeeded to controls all most all Ukrainian existing institutions including the law-enforcement agencies, the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches of government, and the media.
In the meanwhile, three former Ukrainian presidents have joined their hands to oppose the motion to impose martial law in the country. Former Presidents of Ukraine, namely Leonid Kravchuk, Leonid Kuchma and Viktor Yushchenko, issued a joint statement expressing doubts about the need for martial law in the country. In their letter, they stated that “Martial law is, first and foremost a radical restriction of the rights of Ukrainian citizens, including the total prohibition of strikes, mass gatherings and rallies, the right to bans political parties and public organizations.
There is another unparalleled risk associated with martial law – it is a legal chaos in the state.” The former presidents said martial law would pose a threat to democracy because it will scrap the presidential vote scheduled for next year. They further asserted that “A large part of society believes that in this way democracy could be limited. These suspicions are extremely dangerous, they can lead to a social conflict, the enemy will certainly use so they have to be pacified.” 4
There have been mixed reactions among the opposition parties in Verkhovna Rada as well as in academic circles. His main opponent, Tymoshenko, was forced to support the imposition of martial law.5 While speaking on the issue at the extraordinary session of the Verkhovna Rada, Yulia Tymoshenko said that “From the first days of the Russian Federation’s war against Ukraine, the Batkivshchyna faction has demanded the introduction of martial law, and we are ready to support the introduction of martial law in Ukraine today. But we are not ready to support the destruction of the rights and freedoms of Ukrainians under the guise of martial law.”
While, voting against the imposition of martial law, Deputy Chairman of the Opposition Bloc parliamentary faction, Oleksandr Vilkul, argued that “Over the past 4.5 years, more than 10 thousand people died only according to official data, the situation was much worse but martial law was not enacted because they wanted to come to power and hold presidential and parliamentary elections.”6
In the same way, an analyst on international affairs, Georgiy Kuhaleyshvili, argued that “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.” He further noted that “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.” 7Similarly, in an exclusive interview with Glavnovosti, a military expert, Vlad Mulek, explained that the martial law, introduced in ten regions of Ukraine, would allow taking funds from local budgets to finance the army.8
The civil societies, NGOs, opposition parties and many media publications alleged that this was an attempt by the president with an extremely low rating to hold on to power for some time. The popularity of Ukrainian President Poroshenko is collapsing and former Ukrainian prime minister and Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party leader Yulia Tymoshenko continues to be the main beneficiary, according to a survey conducted by Kiev-based pollster Rating Group.9 According to polls, Poroshenko most likely to lose his presidential post if elections to take place on the time. Therefore, the intensifying the armed conflict with Russia and imposition of martial law on the country provided him “like a masterstroke”10 which may allow him to change the situation in his favour. The disappointment is exacerbated further by the public’s high expectations based on his promises made during his election campaign in 2014.
Poroshenko promised that one of his main objectives during his presidency would be to end corruption and turn Ukrainian into a functioning modern country closely associated with the European Union and assured that Ukrainians would not need visas to travel in the EU.
Another of Poroshenko’s promises was to immediately end the military operation in Donbass. During the last four and half years of his rule, Poroshenko has yet again failed to keep his promise and has unsuccessful completely in every aspect of the life of Ukrainian people. His expectations and dependent on Western allies could not yield any positive results rather complicated the situations. Ukraine nowadays, facing a very peculiar condition, somewhat resembling the one that evolved in Russia on the 1990s. Recognising his own failure in addressing the people’s concern on various issues, President Poroshenko has imposed martial law in Ukraine which is seen as the only option to silence oppositions and postpone the upcoming elections, which is supposed be held on March 31, 2019.
There is no doubt that the United States and its European allies will continue to back Ukraine government in every platforms but unfortunately, they can’t change the situations besides condemning and imposing more sanctions on Russia.
*About the author: Manabhanjan Meher, Research Analyst in Europe and Eurasia Centre, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi.
- “Statement by the President of Ukraine on the approval of the Decree on the introduction of martial law in Ukraine”, November 26, 2018, at https://www.president.gov.ua/en/news/zayava-prezidenta-ukrayini-shodo-zatverdzhennya-ukazu-pro-vv-51362
- Law of Ukraine “On the Legal Regime of Martial Law” (Bulletin of the Verkhovna Rada, 2015, No 28, p. 250), in Oleksandr Lytvynenko, Philipp Fluri and Valentyn Badrack (eds.) The Security Sector Legislation Of Ukraine, Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces and Сenter for Аrmy, Сonversion and Disarmament Studies, Geneva – Kyiv, 2017, pp. 76, at https://www.dcaf.ch/sites/default/files/publications/documents/Security%20Sector%20Legislation%20Ukraine%202017_eng.pdf
- “What Will Change In Ukraine If Martial Law is Imposed: A List of Restrictions and Prohibitions”, November 26, 2018, https://newsone.ua/articles/politics/chto-izmenitsja-v-ukraine-esli-vvedut-voennoe-polozhenie-spisok-ohranichenij-i-zapretov.html
- “Three former Presidents of Ukraine address Parliament over martial law”, November 26, 2018, at https://112.international/article/three-former-presidents-of-ukraine-address-parliament-over-martial-law-34551.html
- “Destruction of rights and freedoms under martial law is unacceptable!”, November 26, 2018, at https://www.tymoshenko.ua/en/news-en/destruction-of-rights-and-freedoms-under-martial-law-is-unacceptable
- “Statement of the Deputy Chairman of the Opposition Bloc parliamentary faction, Oleksandr Vilkul, about trying to enact martial law”, November 26, 2018, at http://opposition.org.ua/en/news/zayava-oleksandra-vilkula-pro-sprobu-vvedennya-voennogo-stanu.html
- Georgiy Kuhaleyshvili (2018), “Is there any point in declaring martial law in Ukraine?”, November 27, 2018, https://112.international/opinion/is-there-any-point-in-declaring-martial-law-in-ukrain-34597.html
- “Ukrainian Military Expert Vlad Mulyk: Martial Law will Allow Kiev to Take Away Money from Local Budgets to Finance the Army”, November 29, 2018, http://www.stalkerzone.org/ukrainian-military-expert-vlad-mulyk-martial-law-will-allow-kiev-to-take-away-money-from-local-budgets-to-finance-the-army/
- Roman Olearchyk (2018), “Ukraine voters struggle to see change ahead of presidential poll”, September 12, 2018, https://www.ft.com/content/1de24cc4-91b4-11e8-9609-3d3b945e78cf
- Leonid Bershidsky (2018), “Martial Law Won’t Help Ukraine’s President”, November 27, 2018, https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2018-11-27/martial-law-won-t-help-ukraine-s-petro-poroshenko-in-russia-clash