Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has imposed martial law after the country’s vessels faced off with Russian ships near Crimea. The measure could potentially allow him to call off scheduled elections and preserve power.
Martial law is scheduled to be in place from November 26 to January 26. It still requires final approval from Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada. However, the Ukrainian General Staff was already tasked with beginning partial troop mobilization, according to media reports.
The Ukrainian army was put on full combat alert even before the martial law was declared.
The Rada is expected to vote on the motion later on Monday. However, Poroshenko revealed that he actually brought martial law into force ahead of its approval by parliament, starting from November 28. With that, the president also warned about a “serious threat” of a “ground invasion” of Ukraine, citing a “secret intelligence document.”
— RT (@RT_com) November 26, 2018
Invoking martial law is seen as a move which is beneficial for Poroshenko. The president’s rating is falling as he struggles to campaign for re-election in March.
However, the elections would be called off if martial law was still in place by that time, meaning that the president would keep his post despite unpopular economic measures and corruption scandals in his government.
The decree, which Poroshenko introduced in parliament, specifically states that the people’s right “to elect and be elected”might be suspended under martial law, effectively meaning that the government can call off any elections as long as the measure is in place.
Facing a public outcry over the possible fate of the upcoming elections, the president suggested that lawmakers approve martial law for 30 rather than 60 days, so as to avoid derailing the March vote. The elections will go ahead on schedule, he insisted.
The Ukrainian leadership apparently seeks to “score political points” ahead of the March 2019 presidential elections, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on the issue. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also described the decision to impose the martial law as “an electoral intrigue.”
The move comes on the back of a standoff between a group of Ukrainian Navy ships, which crossed into Russian territorial sea without authorization, and the Russian border guard vessels.
The Ukrainian ships were sailing between two of the country’s ports: from Odessa in the Black Sea to Mariupol in the Azov Sea. The only waterway connecting these ports is through the Kerch Strait between Crimea and mainland Russia.
— RT (@RT_com) November 26, 2018
Although both Russia and Ukraine have freedom of navigation in the Kerch Strait under a 2003 treaty, there are detailed technical rules on how vessels should pass through the narrow, complex waterway. Every ship passing through it should contact the Crimean sea port of Kerch, which controls traffic in the area.
While Kiev says that it notified the Russian side about its ships sailing through the area in advance, Moscow denies it received any warning. Moscow then accused Kiev of staging a planned provocation aimed at stirring up the conflict between the two neighbors and justifying the imposition of martial law.