Lawyers for Ukraine told the United Nations’ top court on June 6 that Russia bankrolled a “campaign of intimidation and terror” by rebels in eastern Ukraine starting in 2014 and sought to replace Crimea’s multiethnic community with “discriminatory Russian nationalism” after its occupation and annexation of the region.
The claims came at hearings at the International Court of Justice in a case brought by Kyiv against Russia linked to Moscow’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and the arming of rebels in eastern Ukraine in the years before Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.
Ukraine wants the world court to order Moscow to pay reparations for attacks and crimes in the regions, including for the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 that was shot down by Russia-backed rebels on July 17, 2014, killing all 298 passengers and crew.
Four days of hearings in the court’s ornate, wood-paneled Great Hall of Justice opened against a backdrop of Europe’s deadliest conflict since World War II. Ukraine and Russia were trading accusations of blame for the damage to the Kakhovka dam and hydroelectric power station, which are located in a part of Ukraine that Moscow controls.
Lawyers for Kyiv presented legal arguments to support their case on June 6. Russia’s lawyers will address judges on June 8. Each side has another opportunity next week to present evidence. Judges are expected to take months to issue a judgment.
“When it could have instructed its officials not to fund groups committing violence against civilians, Russia did nothing,” Harold Koh, a lawyer for Ukraine, told judges. “Instead, as more deadly weapons arrived in Ukraine and more Ukrainian civilians suffered atrocities, Russian officials escalated their illegal supply of monies and weapons sending.”
Koh said that in July 2014, a Buk anti-aircraft system was sent into Ukraine “after which Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was destroyed.”
Another lawyer on Ukraine’s team, David Zionts, said that pro-Russia forces in eastern Ukraine “attacked civilians as part of a campaign of intimidation and terror. Russian money and weapons fueled this campaign.”
The Ukrainian legal team said Russia did nothing to prevent or help Ukraine investigate the financial streams.
Turning to alleged breaches in Crimea of a convention to combat racial discrimination, Koh said that, following its illegal occupation and annexation of the peninsula, Russia “sought to replace the multiethnic community that had characterized Crimea before Russia’s intervention with discriminatory Russian nationalism.”
He told judges that Russian policies amount to “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.”
The case is one of several legal proceedings against Russia linked to Ukraine.
In a separate case brought by Ukraine in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s illegal invasion, the world court issued a preliminary order calling on Russia to stop hostilities — a legally binding ruling that Moscow ignored.
In that case, Kyiv is arguing that Russia violated the 1948 Genocide Convention by falsely accusing Ukraine of committing genocide and using that as a pretext for the Feb. 24, 2022, invasion. Moscow argues that the court doesn’t have jurisdiction.
Not far away at the International Criminal Court, judges have issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin on charges of deporting and illegally transferring children from Ukraine. Russia isn’t a member of the court and doesn’t recognize its jurisdiction.
A Dutch domestic court last year convicted two Russians and a pro-Moscow Ukrainian for their roles in downing MH17 and sentenced them in their absence to life imprisonment. Ukraine also has another case against Russia at the International Court of Justice over its invasion, and the Netherlands and Ukraine are suing Moscow at the European Court of Human Rights over MH17.
Russia has always denied involvement in the downing of the passenger jet that was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down by a Soviet-era missile over eastern Ukraine.
“The Russian Federation has contempt for international law,” a senior Ukrainian diplomat, Anton Korynevych, said. “Over the last 16 months, the world has woken up to this dark reality.”