Written by Dmitry Babich via the Foundation for Strategic Culture:

In Ukraine, the election campaign leading up to presidential elections on 31 March 2019 was officially launched on 31 December 2018. Meanwhile, martial law has imposed 10 regions of the country (more than half of the Ukrainian population residing there). was lifted a few days before the start of the campaign – December 26th. The martial law, which lasted a month, granted the unpopular President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, the dictatorial power. It could close all media, cancel and postpone elections, arrest anyone suspected of "collaboration" with Russia for an indefinite period. Protest rallies and political activities, such as party conventions and parliamentary inquiries, have also been suspended.

The question is: should the elections, to be held three months after the end of martial law, be considered free and fair? And can President Poroshenko be tempted to impose martial law again before the elections? In all the democratic countries, Poroshenko would have rather low chances with its low rate of approval of the voters (11,6%) (data of the last survey carried out by the group based in Kiev). International Institute of Sociology). The strongest candidate, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, has 10 points ahead of him with 21.6%.

Poroshenko imposed martial law on November 26 due to the arrest of three Ukrainian military ships near the Kerch Strait in the Black Sea, where Ukraine and Russia own large ports and military bases. The Russian side claimed that Ukrainian ships had illegally entered Russian territorial waters before attempting (unsuccessfully) to enter the Kerch Strait, a narrow underwater crossing connecting the Black Sea to the sea of 39; Azov. This sea is a shallow water reservoir, most of which is not even suitable for medium-sized military vessels. A few years ago, no one could imagine that the Azov Sea had no strategic importance, since Russia controlled Azov since the 17th century and that almost all the population living on its coast was Russian-speaking . Mariupol, the largest Ukrainian sea port of Azov, with its Russian population, was part of the anti-Maidan rebellion in eastern Russian-speaking Ukraine in 2014. The city also participated in the unrecognized referendum on the federalisation of Ukraine. In May 2014, Mariupol was seized by the Ukrainian army, which was already opposing the Donetsk and Lugansk rebellion, using tanks, aviation and artillery.

Now, the sea of ​​Azov has suddenly become extremely important to the eyes of the EU and the United States. After the two Russians arrested the two small Ukrainian warships and a tugboat (with 24 people on board) for having entered the waters which, even before the reunification of Crimea with Russia is considered Russian waters , the United States and the EU suddenly began to tackle the problems of the Kerch Strait near the heart. President Trump canceled his planned meeting with President Putin in Argentina at the end of 2018, saying the two leaders would meet when Ukrainian sailors and ships were returned to Ukraine. French and German leaders Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, on the eve of the New Year, suddenly expressed the desire "to see Ukrainian sailors celebrate the end-of-year holidays with their families", making a strong statement against Russia about it.

"It is interesting to note that when the Ukrainian border guards arrested 10 sailors aboard a North fishing vessel in March 2018 in the sea of ​​Azov, Merkel and Macron did not no protest statement, "commented Bogdan Bezpalko, head of the Ukrainian and Ukrainian Studies Center of the Moscow State University. "This fishing boat operated from Crimea, the sailors were the inhabitants of a fishing village. So, officially, they were Ukrainian citizens for the Ukrainian authorities. (Ukraine still considers Crimea as its territory, despite the region's vote for reunification with Russia in 2014 – D.B.). But fishermen have always been arrested for exercising economic activity in Crimea, which is "occupied territory" in the eyes of Kiev. The sailors spent several months in Ukraine against their will and the captain is still detained there. And these people were not soldiers, they did not try to pass under the Crimean Bridge, of strategic importance, with weapons and without permission. Similar situations have occurred for other Russian ships, but the EU has not reacted. Now it's done.

The hypocrisy of American and European leaders, with their many "concerns about the state of democracy," has become particularly evident. No one in the United States and the EU protested against Poroshenko's decision to impose martial law after the incident near the Kerch Strait, no tragic summit match of the civil war in 2014-2015. According to Ukrainian opinion polls, no less than 60% of Ukrainians did not approve of Poroshenko's decision, seeing only an attempt to stay in power, having nothing to do with the defense of the country.

"If Poroshenko needed additional powers to use weapons against a possible Russian aggression, he would not have to impose martial law," said Mikhail Pogrebinsky, head of the conflict-based Conflict Studies Center. Kiev. "In 2014, Poroshenko used the aviation, artillery and tanks against the Donbass rebellion, without any martial law. It has just called it an "anti-terrorist operation" and used the most destructive weapons, without any consequence from the West. So, the Ukrainians no longer trust the president, they see in martial law another trick to cancel elections or win them dishonestly. "

Macron and Merkel's request to Russia to "allow a safe, rapid and unhindered passage" of all international ships in the Kerch Strait (which Russia has never refused to do) also smacks of hypocrisy . The Russian Foreign Ministry stressed the fact that Ukrainian army ships were passing through the Kerch Strait a few weeks before the November 25 incident. Nevertheless, the US State Department's chief negotiator on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, Kurt Volker, has threatened Russia with additional sanctions on the US and Europe to "hinder international shipping".

"We are used to sanctions and we do not expect justice from the West," said Vladimir Zharikhin, head of the Ukrainian department of the Moscow-based Institute for CIS Studies. "What is sad is the consequences of the confrontation for the Ukrainian elections. The chance of changing the disastrous course of Ukraine is missed. "

On 28 December, Poroshenko convened a special closed-door meeting of senior generals and security officials to discuss the results of martial law. Poroshenko would have preferred to retain martial law, but the obligation to conduct a three-month electoral campaign made this variant impossible. However, Poroshenko's chances of victory increased – even without increasing his odds, he saw his enemies demoralized. Despite the fact that Yulia Tymoshenko warned against Poroshenko's plans to cancel the elections by martial law as early as July of this year, her faction has hardly opposed any resistance to it. Poroshenko's idea (the vote at the Rada was 270 to 60 in favor of martial law). Tymoshenko's faction avoided a fight. And a fighter who does not fight – this fighter has already lost.

Local observers noted that Poroshenko appeared on the verge of receiving support from the West, which increases his chances of winning the elections, even in the event of alteration of the vote. With regard to a new "series" of martial law, there are many enthusiasts for this type of solution in Ukraine.

For example, a Rada deputy named Vitaly Kupryi has registered in the Ukrainian parliament a bill obliging the president to declare Ukraine "in a state of war with the Russian Federation", banning all transit of Russian oil and gas by Ukraine (an idea not likely to receive support from the EU).

Thus, the most likely outcome will be a state of tension, "neither peace nor war," which would allow people not to see a dramatic deterioration of their situation while allowing Poroshenko to remain in power.