THE HAGUE: Russia hit back Tuesday at claims it is “sponsoring terrorism” in war-torn eastern Ukraine, dismissing Kiev’s accusations that it is breaking treaties by supporting pro-Moscow rebels as “neither factual nor legal”.
“The Russian Federation complies fully with its obligations under [the] treaties that are now relied upon by Ukraine,” in a case before the UN’s top International Court of Justice, Moscow’s representative said.
“We see neither a legal nor factual basis” for the measures asked for by Ukraine, Roman Kolodkin, legal director at Russia’s foreign ministry, told the court in The Hague.
Ukraine on Monday urged the ICJ to order emergency measures to bring stability to its eastern regions.
Nearly three years of conflict have claimed about 10,000 lives in eastern Ukraine — and led to Russia’s seizure of Ukraine’s southern peninsula of Crimea in 2014 — pushing ties between Moscow and the West to their lowest point since the Cold War.
Ukraine lodged its case against its former Soviet master at the ICJ in mid-January, saying it had protested for several years against Moscow’s alleged financing of separatist rebels battling Ukrainian government forces.
Ukranian deputy foreign minister Olena Zerkal told judges that Kiev was only seeking “a measure of stability and calm in an unpredictable and dangerous situation.”
Kiev has asked the court — which rules in disputes between countries — to order Moscow to stop funnelling money, arms and people into eastern Ukraine.
But Ilya Rogachev, another Russian representative, told the 16 judges hearing the case that Kiev “is misleading the court.”
Kiev “is involved in an armed conflict being waged by its authorities and its armed forces including irregular battalions against the people of the eastern Ukraine,” Rogachev said.
“Stigmatising those as terrorists and sponsors of terrorism could have serious consequences” in future peace talks, he warned.
“Ukraine’s own evidence, which shows that it is at least equally engaged in indiscriminate shelling, places a very important question mark next to the characterisation that Ukraine alone places on these acts as acts of terrorism,” added one of Russia’s lawyers, Samuel Wordsworth.
Ukraine also accuses Moscow of discriminating against non-Russian minorities in Crimea.
But Russia’s representatives said they “disagreed” with Kiev’s claims, including that Crimea was part of Ukraine.
“The people of Crimea were not consulted” when the peninsula was handed to Ukraine in 1954, at a time when both Moscow and Kiev were part of the Soviet Union, while “the majority of its people wants to be part of the Russian Federation,” Rogachev said.
Ukraine also wants the Kremlin to pay compensation to civilians caught up in the conflict, including the victims of Malaysia Airways flight MH17, shot down in 2014 over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 on board.
Russia’s representatives said the country was cooperating in an ongoing investigation into the fate of MH17, but “expressed disagreement” with the findings of the Dutch Safety Board and a joint international investigation team, which said the plane was struck by a Russian-made BUK missile fired from rebel-held territory.
Rare talks between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin over the last month proved “fruitless”, the Ukrainian presidency has said.
Poroshenko hailed the start of the four days of hearings Monday, calling it “a historic moment” on his Facebook page.
The hearings come after a surge in the violence which killed 35 people in early February, centred around the government-held town of Avdiivka near the rebel bastion of Donetsk.
The ICJ was set up in 1945 to rule in disputes between countries.
While UN member nations are bound to abide by the tribunal’s decisions, the court’s ruling is unlikely to have much concrete effect on the ground, experts said.