Ukraine on Tuesday called Russia a terrorist state at the top U.N. court as hearings began in a case over Moscow’s backing of pro-Russian separatists blamed for shooting down Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 in 2014.
It was the first time lawyers for Ukraine and Russia met at the International Court of Justice, also know as the World Court, since Moscow launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. Legal teams with dozens of representatives were sent by each side.
A panel of 16 judges at the ICJ began hearing Ukraine’s claim that Moscow violated a U.N. anti-terrorism treaty by equipping and funding pro-Russian forces who shot down the jetliner, killing all 298 passengers and crew.
In the same claim, Ukraine has also asked the Hague-based court to order Russia to halt discrimination against the Tatar ethnic group in Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula occupied by Russia since 2014.
In opening remarks, Ukrainian Ambassador-at-Large Anton Korynevych commented on the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka hydroelectric dam hours earlier in Russian-held territory in Ukraine’s southern Kherson region. Kyiv says Russia blew up the dam; the Kremlin has blamed what it says was Ukrainian sabotage.
“Russia cannot defeat us on the battlefield, so it targets civilian infrastructure to try to freeze us into submission,” Korynevych told hearings, describing Russia’s actions as “the actions of a terrorist state”.
“Just today Russia blew up a major dam …, causing significant civilian evacuations, ecological damage and threatening the safety of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.” Moscow has tried to get the case thrown out, arguing the ICC has no jurisdiction.
RUSSIA WANTS TO ‘WIPE OUT WHAT MAKES UKRAINIANS, UKRAINIANS’
Flight MH17 was shot down by a Russian-made missile on July 17, 2014 over pro-Russian, separatist-held eastern Ukraine.
Last November, a Dutch court convicted two Russians and a Ukrainian separatist in absentia for their role and sentenced them to life in prison. It found that Russia had “overall control” over the separatist forces.
Ukraine wants to court to decide that Moscow has breached the anti-terrorism treaty by supplying funds and weapons to pro-Russian forces in Ukraine since 2014, including the group that allegedly shot down MH17.
Russia boycotted hearings at the court in March 2022 that dealt with a request by Ukraine to impose emergency measures in another ICJ case, in which Kyiv is countering a Russian claim of genocide against Russian-speakers in Ukraine. Kyiv calls that claim a bogus justification for Russia’s invasion.
Ukraine also argued Russia was discriminating against ethnic Ukrainians and Tatars in Crimea in an effort to erase their culture.
“(Russia) is pursuing a long-term project to erase the rights and culture that make Ukraine a proud, multi-ethnic nation, to wipe out what makes Ukrainians, Ukrainians, and what makes the Crimean Tatars, Crimean Tatars,” said Harold Koh, a lawyer for the Ukrainian government.
Russia denies systematic human rights abuses in Ukrainian territory that it occupies.
The court adjourned on Tuesday after Ukraine wound up its presentation. Russia will have the chance to respond to Kyiv’s case on Thursday at the court.
Rulings of the ICJ, the U.N.’s top court for disputes between states, are binding but have no enforcement mechanism.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is also the subject of an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court, also in The Hague, on war crimes charges over forced deportations of Ukrainian children. The Kremlin denies this.