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Putin orders martial law in four Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

For close to two months, Ukraine has been reclaiming land that Russia occupied early in its invasion. Today, Russian President Vladimir Putin seemed to signal his frustration. He ordered martial law in four Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine - the same territories Russia just annexed unilaterally. That move likely signals more restrictions in occupied Ukraine and in Russia itself. NPR's Charles Maynes is in Moscow and has details. Hi, Charles.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Hi there.

PFEIFFER: What did Putin have to say?

MAYNES: Yeah, well, Putin made this announcement in a video address to his Security Council. You know, as you note, the headline here was imposing martial law on these lands that he annexed based on the results of staged referendums to join the Russian Federation. Those were done in violation of international law, but the thing to remember is that, even then, you know, Russia never had full control over these territories. And in the weeks since, Ukraine has seized back large portions of land, with Russian forces repeatedly withdrawing and even civilians being asked to relocate, and all of this much to Putin's frustration. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: So here, Putin says that what he called regime in Kyiv has refused to recognize the will of the people. Russia carried out these referendum votes and, instead of sitting down at the negotiating table, Ukraine keeps fighting. So today's announcement is Putin trying to crush this Ukrainian counteroffensive by tapping even more of his security apparatus, and he's doing that by arguing Ukraine is now actually attacking the Russian homeland, thereby triggering measures like martial law.

PFEIFFER: Practically speaking, what does martial law mean both for Ukrainians in these occupied territories and for Russians?

MAYNES: Well, Putin essentially tasked his government and security apparatus to come up with ideas to reestablish control over these lands. He's also imposed heightened security levels in regions adjacent to Ukraine, as well as slightly lower ones in Moscow and southern Russia, and all of these moves give the government all sorts of extrajudicial powers - you know, everything from travel restrictions, search and seizure. Police can now detain people for up to one month without bringing charges - forced resettlement. But the key is implementation. You know, for example, right away, the Kremlin said they had no intention of sealing the border. But that's far from a guarantee, and certainly not much of one, for government critics who already face enormous pressure.

PFEIFFER: How are people reacting to this?

MAYNES: Well, it's mixed, as you might imagine, but let's start with Ukraine. You know, a top aide to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said martial law in these occupied regions really doesn't change much. Kyiv argues people there were already de facto living in a police state, although it's worth pointing out that Ukraine itself has been under martial law since February. Russian governors say they don't plan to introduce new restrictions - at least not yet. But keep in mind this comes on the back of governors being blamed for a very troubled and unpopular mobilization drive to get additional troops into Ukraine, so perhaps the local authorities are sensitive to that.

And yet, in a more worrying sign, nationalists who increasingly seem to have Putin's ear when it comes to Ukraine are cheering the news. For example, Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman head of the Chechen Republic, took to social media to say this was an excellent and long-awaited move, and he's among a group that seems to argue that the only way Russia can win this conflict is by getting tougher. And increasingly, that looks to me not only with its military campaign against Ukraine, where we've seen all of these recent intense bombardments of Ukrainian cities, but also in Russia, now with a further crackdown on perceived enemies at home.

PFEIFFER: That's NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow. Charles, thank you for covering this for us.

MAYNES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Charles Maynes
Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
Nishant Dahiya
Sacha Pfeiffer is a correspondent for NPR's Investigations team and an occasional guest host for some of NPR's national shows.