Moving toward a war footing
October 31, 2022
  • Nikolai Petrov

    Senior Research Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Programme, The Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House)

Putin's October decrees introduced special regimes in certain regions, as well as new government bodies. Nikolai Petrov writes that they serve to deepen the process of replacing the constitution with a mixture of emergency measures and legal ambiguity.
Map of martial law and other special regimes across Russia’s regions. October 2022. Source: Wiki Commons
On October 19, Russian President Putin issued decrees that put in place martial law in the four regions of Ukraine recently annexed by Russia – the Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics, along with Zaporizhzhia and Kherson oblasts. Putin explained at a meeting of Russia’s Security Council that the martial law regime had been in effect even before the regions "joined Russia” and that now it had to be "formalized under Russian law."

Meanwhile, the regions bordering Ukraine – Crimea, Krasnodar, Belgorod, Bryansk, Voronezh, Kursk, Rostov and Sevastopol – are now subject to a “medium response level.” A “heightened readiness” regime was introduced in another 18 regions in the Central and Southern federal districts: Moscow (city), Vladimir, Ivanovo, Kaluga, Kostroma, Lipetsk, Moscow (region), Oryol, Ryazan, Smolensk, Tambov, Tver, Tula and Yaroslavl, as well as Adygea, Kalmykia, Astrakhan and Volgograd. The rest of the country was put on a “baseline readiness level.”

The "high response level" is intended for the occupied territories where martial law is being introduced. Territorial defense will be organized there according to the law "On Defense,” and a territorial defense headquarters has already been established. Though the "On Defense" law has the article "Territorial Defense" (Article 22), the procedure by which it is to be organized, deployed and carried out hasn’t been approved. It is up to the president to approve that, as well as the territorial defense plan. So far, it is only clear that martial law makes it possible to coercively mobilize men from the occupied regions for the war, as well as to intern Ukrainian citizens. In addition, the de facto powers that the military administrations there had previously – including to forcibly transfer people from Kherson to the left bank of the Dnieper – have now been formalized de jure.

In the eight Russian regions subject to the "medium response level,” "mobilization measures" will be carried out as needed by the armed forces and military units, including the economy, civil defense and "the needs of the population." In particular, they may mean converting enterprises to produce military products. Amendments to the "On Defense" law that entailed special economic measures during military operations "outside the territory of Russia" were adopted and came into force in July.

The “baseline readiness level” across the rest of the country empowers governors to make decisions “to protect the population and territories from natural and man-made emergency situations.” A special clause of the decree gives governors the power to help in resolving material and everyday issues of the army – including supplies, roads, providing soldiers with housing and, if necessary, clothes and food.

Putin decreed to give additional powers to the leaders of all Russia’s regions. However, the opposite is actually the case:
"The powers were given not to the governors themselves but rather the operations headquarters headed by them, which, besides the governors, include security officials who report directly to the federal center."
The headquarters are supposed to coordinate the interaction between executive branch organs, local government and the regional divisions of federal bodies. Regional leaders are responsible for ensuring law and order, stepping up the security around important state, special-purpose and military facilities, and putting in place a special regime for the operation of a number of facilities that support transportation, communications, energy and connectivity. “Decisions of the [regional] head made in the scope of his competence are binding on the executive authorities of Belarus, local governments, regional branches of federal executive organs and other bodies,” the decree says.

In the first two days after the decree was signed, operations headquarters were established in every region, with the first meetings already held in some places. These headquarters include about two dozen people, including subordinates of governors and security officials, like the heads of the regional Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Emergency Situations, FSB, National Guard and Prosecutor General. Meetings are to be held weekly. In the communication about the operations headquarters of Belgorod region – whose members won’t be made public – it states that decisions will be made through an open vote by a majority of the members, who are required to attend meetings.

At the aforementioned meeting of the Security Council on October 19, Putin instructed Sergei Sobyanin to coordinate the work of regions to improve security. "I ask the mayor of Moscow… to take part in ensuring the coordination of the work of regions toward implementing the measures provided for by this decree, and the interaction of regions with the federal authorities." To do that, Sobyanin, who heads the State Council’s Commission on State and Municipal Administration, will work alongside the Presidential Administration.

The commission was to deliver its first report on October 25 and will provide an update every week thereafter.

Note that since 2020 Sobyanin has acted as a chief among regional governors, while on March 5 the State Council working group on countering Covid headed by Sobyanin was reassigned by a special presidential decree to also look at economic issues.

The third Putin decree – No 763 – published on October 21, is called “On the Coordinating Council under the Government to Meet the Needs of the Russian Armed Forces, Other Troops, Military Units and Organs.” It is headed by Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, while his deputies are Dmitri Grigorenko and Denis Manturov. Besides Mishustin's acolytes from the government, there are the heads of security and law enforcement agencies, who must attend the meetings themselves – and if they can’t, they must submit their positions on the issues under discussion in writing. In total, the council includes 19 people, including Alexander Bortnikov (FSB), Tatyana Golikova (deputy prime minister), Daniil Egorov (Federal Tax Service), Viktor Zolotov (National Guard), Vladimir Kolokoltsev (Internal Affairs Ministry), Alexander Kurenkov (Ministry of Emergency Situations), Alexander Linets (Chief Directorate for Special Programs of the President), Sergei Naryshkin (Foreign Intelligence Service), Alexander Novak (deputy prime minister), Maxim Reshetnikov (Economic Development Ministry), Anton Siluanov (Finance Ministry), Marat Khusnullin (deputy prime minister), Dmitri Chernyshenko (deputy prime minister) and Sergei Shoigu (Ministry of Defense). Besides government leaders and siloviki, it includes presidential aide Maxim Oreshkin and Sobyanin (in their individual capacity – unlike those listed above, who are ex officio members of the council).
"With such a composition, the council looks like the presidium of two governments – the prime minister's and the president's – or like a remake of Stalin's State Defense Committee."
First page of the Russian Presidential Decree "On the introduction of martial law in the territories of the Donetsk People's Republic, Luhansk People's Republic, and Zaporizhzhia and Kherson Regions". Source: Wiki Commons
The council may issue instructions and recommendations to federal and local executive authorities and prepare proposals for the president on issues requiring his decision. Council meetings are to be held as needed, though Mishustin must report weekly on its work to the president.

Unlike many of the government’s other undertakings, the Coordinating Council started working straight away: it held its first meeting on October 24, while on October 25 it met with Putin. Working groups were also created, headed by Sobyanin and the deputy prime ministers: with Manturov responsible for supplies of weapons, clothing and food for the army; Khusnullin for infrastructure, social facilities, transportation and logistics; and Golikova for medical support and the payment of monetary allowances; there are also groups in charge of fuel supplies, energy and communications issues, information, databases, analytical support and of course setting up channels for feedback from the mobilized and their families. Sobyanin is heading up a State Council working group coordinating the work at the regional level.

It seems that these steps represent a reaction by the Kremlin to the mess that the mobilization has become, as well as the routinization of the war and everything associated with it. At the same time, this is a serious change in how decisions are made: some have been transferred to the level of the prime minister and the Coordinating Council, while the decisions made by Putin are agreed in advance at the level of the Council.


The latest series of Putin decrees issued on October 19-21 is less about the annexed regions of Ukraine than Russia as a whole and continues to replace the constitution with a mixture of emergency measures and legal uncertainty, as in the case of the special military operation and “partial” mobilization.

The initiatives described above establish a wide framework and look intended to be built on. Though they change the reality today, they are more about creating the space for a variety of changes in the future. And while governors, who are launching operations headquarters on the orders of the Kremlin, emphasize that currently there are no restrictions on leaving their regions or other changes in daily life, in reality that can change at any time. Needless to say, the decrees allow for even harsher suppression of protests, the likelihood of which will rise as the situation at the front turns negative for the regime and economic problems in the country deepen.

The Kremlin's particular concern is the provision of the armed forces, something the Defense Ministry does not seem to be handling very well. Thus, some of the tasks to provide for the personnel and material needs of the belligerent army have been shifted to regional administrations. Still, a differentiated policy toward different regions – as it was previously in relation to the mobilization and pandemic – doesn’t in any way mean the decentralization of power or the transformation of governors into more independent actors.
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