Ukraine and Russia are scheduled to face off at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) – the top United Nations court – over Moscow’s support for pro-Russian forces blamed for “insurrection” against the Ukrainian state and armed violence that included the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 in 2014, killing all 298 passengers and crew.
Judges at the ICJ in The Hague will hear Ukraine’s claim on Tuesday that Moscow violated a UN anti-terrorism treaty by equipping and funding pro-Russian separatists, who international investigators concluded had used a Russian missile to shoot down the Malaysian jetliner over eastern Ukraine almost 10 years ago.
Lawyers for Ukraine will speak on Tuesday from 10am local time (08:00 GMT), while Russia’s will address the court with a response on Thursday, the ICJ said in a statement. Ukraine will then reply on June 12, and Russia on June 14.
Kyiv accuses Russia of supporting pro-Moscow forces in Ukraine’s Donbas with weapons and money and thereby violating the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism adopted by the UN.
Ukraine is seeking damages for the fighting, which began in 2014 and lead to approximately 13,000 people killed in the eight years that led up to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Ukraine claims that Russia “instigated and sustained an armed insurrection against the authority of the Ukrainian State in eastern Ukraine” and “created “a climate of violence and intimidation against non-Russian ethnic groups”, the ICJ said in the statement.
Established in the aftermath of World War II, the ICJ deals with disputes between UN member states and though its rulings are legally binding, the court has no enforcement mechanism.
Tuesday’s hearing will be the first time lawyers for Ukraine and Russia meet at the ICJ, also known as the World Court, since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion. Moscow has tried to get the ICJ case thrown out, arguing the court has no jurisdiction.
Last November, a Dutch court convicted two Russian men and a Ukrainian national in absentia of murder for their roles in the shooting down of MH17 and sentenced them to life in prison.
The three – former Russian intelligence agents Igor Girkin and Sergey Dubinsky as well as Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko, a Ukrainian separatist leader – were sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment. The three remain at large. The court also found that Russia had “overall control” over forces in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine since mid-May 2014.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said at the time the ruling was an important decision and the masterminds of the attack also needed to be prosecuted.
“Holding to account masterminds is crucial too, as the feeling of impunity leads to new crimes,” Zelenskyy wrote in a tweet.
A finding by the ICJ that Russia equipped and funded fighters in eastern Ukraine responsible for the MH17 disaster would be a defeat for Moscow, which has repeatedly denied sending troops or military equipment to eastern Ukraine in 2014. Such a ruling could boost legal claims for damages or reparations from not only Ukraine but also individual victims of the conflict.
It is not yet known when an ICJ verdict will be reached.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is also the subject of an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court, also based in The Hague, on charges of war crimes over the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia. The Kremlin denies those charges.