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LONDON: Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday he was introducing martial law in four Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine that Moscow claimed last month as its own territory but is struggling to defend from Ukrainian advances.

In televised remarks to members of his Security Council, Putin boosted the powers of Russia’s regional governors and ordered the creation of a special coordinating council under Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin to step up the faltering war effort.

He said the “entire system of state administration”, not only the specialised security agencies, must be geared to supporting what Russia calls its “special military operation”.

The package of moves, nearly eight months into the war, marked the latest escalation by Putin to counter a series of major defeats at the hands of Ukrainian forces since the start of September. A Kyiv official said it would change nothing.

The published Kremlin decree ordered an “economic mobilisation” in eight regions adjoining Ukraine, including Crimea, which Russia invaded and annexed in 2014.

It placed them in a special regime one step below martial law and allowed for the restriction of people’s movements.

Putin conferred additional powers on the leaders of all Russia’s 80-plus regions to protect critical facilities, maintain public order and increase production in support of the war effort.

But it was far from clear how fast or how effectively the new measures might bolster Russia’s military position on the ground, and what effect they would have on public opinion.

Putin restricts movement in and out of regions near Ukraine

The Russian-installed acting governor of occupied Kherson, Vladimir Saldo, confirmed that he would hand power to the military, according to Russian news agencies. But several Russian regions including Moscow that were named in parts of the decree said nothing would change for them.

Putin’s order came on the day that Russian-installed officials in Kherson told civilians to leave some areas as soon as possible in anticipation of an imminent Ukrainian attack.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter: “This does not change anything for Ukraine: we continue the liberation and de-occupation of our territories.”

Urgent measures

Ukrainian gains have forced Putin into a series of escalatory steps within the past month: the unpopular call-up of hundreds of thousands of extra troops, the unilateral annexation of the four Ukrainian regions - condemned as illegal by an overwhelming majority of nations at the U.N. General Assembly - and a threat to resort to nuclear weapons to defend what Russia sees as its own lands.

After months of assurances from the Kremlin that the campaign was going according to plan, the increasingly urgent measures have brought the reality of the war much closer to home for many ordinary Russians.

The failings of the military and the chaotic state of the mobilisation - which prompted hundreds of thousands of men to flee abroad - have drawn unprecedented criticism even from Putin allies.

Some regions have resorted to public appeals to provide newly mobilised soldiers with basic equipment to head to the front - a problem implicitly acknowledged by Putin.

“Our soldiers, no matter what tasks they perform, must be provided with everything they need. This applies to the equipment of barracks and places of deployment, living conditions, kit and gear, food and medical care,” he said.

“We have every opportunity to resolve all the issues that arise here - and they do exist - at a modern level that is worthy of our country.”

He said the steps he was ordering would increase the stability of the economy and industry and boost production in support of the military effort.

“We are working on solving very complex, large-scale tasks to ensure a reliable future for Russia, the future of our people,” he said.


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