THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Russia urged judges at the United Nations' highest court on Thursday to throw out a case brought by Ukraine against Moscow over the 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and the arming of rebels in eastern Ukraine before Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.
“We appear before you today in order to demonstrate that Ukraine’s application must be dismissed because it is without any legal foundation. Nor does it have any factual evidence to back it,” Russian Ambassador to the Netherlands Alexander Shulgin told judges at the International Court of Justice.
Lawyers for Ukraine said as hearings in the case opened Tuesday 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.”
Ukraine filed the case in 2017, asking the world court to order Moscow to pay reparations for attacks and crimes such as the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 by a Russian missile fired from territory controlled by Moscow-backed rebels on July 17, 2014, killing all 298 passengers and crew.
The Ukrainian government alleges that Russia breached two treaties: the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Addressing the terrorism funding allegation, Michael Swainston, a British lawyer representing Russia, said Ukraine's legal team failed to establish that actions by pro-Moscow rebels in eastern Ukraine could be considered terrorism.
“It is imperative to distinguish between terrorists who deliberately target civilians and soldiers who foresee that civilians will be killed as collateral damage while striking a military target," Swainston said. "The former is a war crime, while the latter represents lawful conduct. And of course, soldiers also make mistakes.”
He also disputed that the downing of MH17 could be considered an act of terrorism and sought to undermine findings by a Dutch court that last year convicted two Russians and a pro-Moscow Ukrainian of multiple murders for their roles in downing the Amsterdam-to-Kuala Lumpur flight.
The Hague District Court ruled after months of hearings and years of international investigations that the Boeing 777 was shot down by a Buk surface-to-air missile system brought into Ukraine from a Russian military base and later returned to the base.
“There was no Russian Buk. No Buk came from Russia. No crew for a Buk came from Russia," Swainston said, calling evidence that the Dutch court relied on in its verdicts "unsourced digital nonsense.”
After the hearings expected to wrap up next week, judges will take months to reach a decision in the case. The court's rulings are final and legally binding.