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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Martial law in Russian-occupied Ukraine

On Wednesday 19 October 2022, the Russian President declared martial law in four provinces of Russian-occupied Ukraine. Here is one of many articles confirming this:

The four provinces are Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk (but not Crimea). Note that Russia does not control all the territory in all of these oblasts (regions); some is still controlled by Ukrainian forces, particularly the city of Zaporizhzhia in northern Zaporizhzhzia oblast; and a substantial part of Donetsk oblast north and west of the principal city of Donetsk. Presumably Russian martial law declarations are not respected in these Ukrainian-occupied territories.

So what does it mean for martial law to be declared, as the Russian President has done? The short answer is that it is not entirely clear but here are some observations we can reach with some confidence, knowing what we do about the Russian legal system:

  1. In Russian law, martial law is governed by the Federal Constitutional Law on Martial Law (2002). As Russia has declared these four oblasts to be part of Russia pursuant to an annexation procedure, presumably the intention is that the 2002 statute now applies in the four provinces.

  2. Martial law is different from both 'a state of emergency' (this being appropriate to declare when there is an internall crisis such as a coup d'etat within Russia or a natural disaster) and 'a state of war' (being at war with a foreign country). Martial law is a legal regime introduced when a region of Russian territory faces an external military threat. Of course much of the rest of the world does not agree that these four provinces are part of Russia at all: they assert that the annexations were unlawful and illegitimate. Nevertheless let us proceed upon the Russian assumption (since the Russians are de facto on charge and otherwise none of this makes any sense).

  3. The Federal Constitutional Law on Martial Law allows the Russian President to declare parts of Russia subject to martial law as defined in the statute where he perceives an external military threat that warrants this. So what next?

  4. One immediate practical consequence is to make it a crime for any person in a region under martial law to fail to obey an order of the Russian Armed Forces. So the Russian Armed Forces can issue dictates to civilians, who must obey them. (e.g. 'Get out of your house with your hands up'; 'report immediately to the nearest Russian Armed Forces conscription centre').

  5. The law also gives the executive authorities of the region the right to take measures called 'econonic mobilisation' - i.e. to create command economies - for example to redirect factories and other industrial facilities to meet military purposes such as manufacturing weapons or armour.

  6. The same executive authorities may issue orders for the protection of people including requiring their movement. So orders for the mass movement of civilians are possible or even likely, upon the ostensible ground of securing their protection from frontline military activities.

  7. Private property can be sequestered for military purposes, again by executive decree.

  8. Executive authority is vested in a series of 'territorial defence headquarters' (one per oblast), semi-military command bodies that are composed of senior civilian and military leaders; ordinary government institutions answer to these quasi-military institutions.

  9. Public infrastructure may be co-opted by these territorial defence headquarters'.

  10. Measures may be taken to restrict entrance and exit of peoples from the affected region.

  11. Measures may be taken regulating the movement and inspection of vehicles (i.e. interminable roadblocks and checkpoints).

  12. IT infrastructure and operators may be subject to executive control (e.g. electronic censorship / surveillance).

  13. A single 'operational headquarters' to govern all the oblasts subject to martial law will be created whose Head is the Russian President and whose operation is also highly influenced by the Ministry of Civil Emergencies, a sort of personal militia that reports directly to the Russian President. So the Russian President is taking personal control of civilian matters in the affected oblasts.

  14. Decisions of the President of the Russian Federation in this capacity are binding on all subordinate institutions and individuals.

  15. Although none of the laws or decrees expressly say this, it has been indicated to us by a Russian person familiar with the matter that due process is suspended as part of this 'martial law' procedure. In other words executive authorities get to make judicial decisions. Or, to put matters even more simply, soldiers may shoot summarily anyone not obeying their orders.


  1. This is obviously a regime of government, even if anticipated to be temporary, deeply oppressive to civil liberties and we can only hope that it lasts for as little time as possible.

  2. Massive population exoduses are anticipated by the decrees applying martial law to the four oblasts, and we should expect to see such exoduses using public transport, particularly trains. That is how Russia has typically deported people from troublesome provinces in her past history.

  3. No person should seek to enter these four oblasts, as there is an explicit possibility of one's being shot on sight for the slightest imagined infraction.

  4. It may be too late to get out safely. Civilians should have their bags packed and be ready to move upon instructions from the Russian Armed Forces.

  5. It seems that the entire region will have its economy converted entirely to support the war effort (e.g. factories used to manufacture missiles.)

Actually the Russian martial law regime bears substantial similarities to that of the German government's legal regime in occupied territories from 1938 to 1945. It represents a dramatic recession in international legal standards, and it is something it is proper to be profoundly worried about.

The whole of Russian-occupied South Ukraine is in the process of being transformed into a dangerous armed camp existing solely to support Russian military purposes. Stay away. There is no conceivable reason why any person would want to go there.


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