Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 27.12.2018
As promised last month, the legal framework of martial law in ten regions of Ukraine ended on December 26. An extraordinary war state was declared to exist in the areas of Ukraine adjacent to the Russian Federation and to the territory invaded and occupied by the Russians: Crimea and part of Donbas. It was a response to the the act of war committed by the Russian Federation on November 25, when Russian forces attacked Ukrainian Navy boats in the Kerch Strait and Black Sea.
Ukrainian warships transited the Kerch Strait on September 23 without incident. The Russian attack on an identical voyage on November 25 came as a complete surprise, as there was no reason for it. It was feared that the decision of the Putin regime to make a purposeful and unprovoked attack on the Ukrainian Navy presaged a military offensive. The Russian Federation has been building up forces to expand its invasion of Ukraine, which has been going on for almost five years. The National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine recommended the adoption of the legal regime of martial law to prepare the country for a Russian military offensive and possibly deter it.
Martial law allowed the Ukrainian government to rapidly carry out a limited mobilization of troops, to block the entry of male Russian citizens of military age to Ukraine, and to take other measures not disclosed to the public. Ukraine acted decisively when the Russian Federation shifted so decidedly from hybrid warfare to open warfare with the attack on Ukrainian naval forces on November 25. Western democracies other than Ukraine did nothing more than express ‘deep concern’ at Russian aggression.
The worst case scenario of a full-throated military offensive by the Russian Federation against Ukraine has to date been averted. Preparations made under the war state legal framework by Ukraine demonstrated that expanded Russian aggression will not go easily for Moscow.
It is too soon to say that the planned Russian offensive has been averted. The Russian Federation has not backed down in the slightest from the enhanced aggressive posture it adopted upon attacking the Ukrainian Navy last month. The Russians have not released the 24 Ukrainian Navy sailors they abducted, and it is violating the Geneva Convention by not treating them properly as prisoners of war. They have not release the three Ukrainian Navy boats they pirated. They have not lifted the blockade of Ukrainian ports on the Sea of Azov imposed by illegally restricting shipping through the Kerch Strait. Plus, the Russian Federation has not stepped back from the forward positioning of troops and matériel in Crimea, Ukraine (Russian-occupied), in Donbas, Ukraine (Russian-occupied), and in Rostov region, Russian Federation. The Russians who are at war with Ukraine remain fully prepared to launch an offensive.
Ukrainian diplomacy, backed by the decisive enactment of martial law, has scored successes for the defence of Europe from Russian aggression. During the war state period, two UN General Assembly resolutions were passed: the first condemning Russian militarization of Crimea, Ukraine (temporarily occupied by the Russian Federation) and the second condemning the Russian Federation’s gross abuse of human rights there.
The President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, summed up the effect of the 30-day legal mechanism of a war state at a meeting (on photo) of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine: “Martial law, along with the support and specific actions of our international partners, their current pressure on the Kremlin, has stopped the worst scenario the Russian Federation was planning. Our military personnel, our diplomats, our partners prevented Putin from crossing a new red line.”
Ukraine kept its promise. It said that martial law would only last for 30 days and that it would not curtail fundamental freedoms such as freedom of the press. The disinformation campaign by the Kremlin about martial law in Ukraine – and the hand-wringing by much of the Moscow-bureaux Western press about it – turned out to be a damp squib.
Martial law in Ukraine is over, but the emergency of the Russian Federation’s war against Ukraine isn’t. Only decisive action by Western democracies, united and resolute, will stop Putin’s War and bring peace to Europe.