The United Nations’ highest court ruled Friday that it has jurisdiction in a case brought by Ukraine that alleges Russia breached treaties on terrorist financing and racial discrimination following its annexation of Crimea by arming rebels in eastern Ukraine and reining in the rights of ethnic Tartars and other minorities.
The decision by the International Court of Justice means the case, which opened a new legal front in the strained relationship between Russia and Ukraine, will go ahead.
It most likely will take many months or years to settle.
The court’s president, Abdulqawi Yusuf, said the ruling was limited to jurisdiction and did not address the merits of Ukraine’s complaints in the case.
Kyiv filed the case in January 2017, asking the court to order Moscow to stop financing rebels in eastern Ukraine and to pay compensation for attacks, including the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was shot out of the sky over eastern Ukraine on July 19, 2014, killing all 298 people on board.
3 Russians, Ukrainian charged
Russia has always denied involvement in the downing of the passenger jet, but an international investigation has charged three Russians and a Ukrainian with murder over their alleged role in the deadly missile strike.
Ukraine also asked the court to order Russia to stop discriminating against ethnic Tartars on the Crimean Peninsula.
At hearings in June, Russia argued that Ukraine was using the two treaties as a way of bringing broader arguments about the annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine before the world court.
Lawyers for Moscow insisted that the court had no jurisdiction and should throw out the case.
In a preliminary ruling in 2017, the court ordered Russia to stop limiting “the ability of the Crimean Tatar community to conserve its representative institutions.”
However, in the same ruling, judges rejected Ukraine’s request for measures aimed at blocking Russian support for rebels in eastern Ukraine, saying Kyiv did not provide enough evidence to back up its claim that Moscow sponsored terrorism by funding and arming the rebels.
The case is going ahead as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is attempting to end the conflict in the east of his country that has killed more than 13,000 people and displaced more than a million people.
Rulings by the court, the United Nations’ principal judicial organ, are binding on states.