The International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague has rejected Kyiv’s call to impose provisional measures against Russia for its support of rebels in eastern Ukraine, while acknowledging Kyiv has a case against Moscow for discrimination in Russia-annexed Crimea.
“At this stage of the proceedings, Ukraine has not put before the court evidence which affords a sufficient basis to find it plausible that these elements are present,” said Presiding Judge Ronny Abraham. “Therefore, the court concludes that the conditions required for the indication of provisional measures in respect of the rights alleged by Ukraine on the basis of ICSFT [International Council Supporting Fair Trial] are not met.”
The ICJ said Kyiv had failed to provide evidence that Russian funding was connected directly to civilian deaths in Ukraine, where 10,000 people have perished since fighting broke out in February 2014.
Kyiv filed a lawsuit against Russia at the ICJ for intervening militarily in Ukraine, financing separatists that Kyiv labels “terrorists,” the shooting down of civilian passenger plane MH17 in July 2014, and discriminating against Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians in the annexed peninsula.
Ukraine asked the United Nations-established court to take provisional measures to stop Russia from fueling the conflict, as it can take months for the court to decide if it will take a case.
‘Supporting terrorism’ rejected
The court’s ruling Wednesday means the ICJ will make no immediate demand against Russia for violating the International Convention for the Suppression of Financing Terrorism, as Kyiv was seeking.
“From the very start, there was an incorrect approach in determining the status of both the [self-proclaimed] LNR [Lugansk Peoples’ Republic] and DNR [Donetsk Peoples’ Republic] as terrorist groupings, but they are no Islamic State,” said Kyiv’s Institute of Global Strategies’ Vadim Karasev. “They are rather classical separatist groupings.”
While evidence has accumulated in reports of Russia’s military support for the conflict, analysts and observers say calling it terrorism hampered Kyiv’s case.
While the ICJ rejected provisional measures against Russia, it demanded Moscow ensure the rights of minority Tatars and Ukrainians in Russia-annexed Crimea and said Kyiv had a case showing otherwise.
“With regards to the situation in Crimea, the Russian Federation must comply in accordance with its obligation under International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination,” said ICJ’s Abraham.
Crimean Tatars were some of the most vocal opponents of Russia’s annexing of the peninsula in March 2014. Thousands have since fled as Russia took control of Tatar media and banned the highest body representing the minority group, the Mejlis.
The ICJ urged Moscow to end its limitations on the Crimean Tatar community’s representative institutions, like the Mejlis. The judges said Russia must also ensure there are no limits on access to Ukrainian language education on the peninsula.
Despite the court’s rejection, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, speaking during a visit to London, welcomed the ruling.
“The international court in The Hague recognized its jurisdiction over both court cases. We are confident that today we are pursuing the right course, and hope for a successful hearing of these cases,” he said.
“For us, this decision of the court is a positive one,” said Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister, Olena Zerkal. “We proved our position and we see that we have a very good perspective for the hearings on merits, and we’re going to actually put forward all our intentions and efforts in order to prove our position on merits.”
Russian officials also welcomed the interim ruling.
The State Duma international affairs committee’s first deputy chairman, Dmitry Novikov, said it was “quite natural” the court made such a decision.
“If any court demonstrates minimal objectivity in pronouncing judgments, it should make these decisions on the basis of certain evidence. The fact that there is no evidence of Russia’s support to terrorism, it is quite a natural thing, and the fact that the court has to agree on it, is quite a natural thing,” Novikov told Russia’s Interfax news agency.
“Submission of a lawsuit by Ukraine, it is clear that it is a part of an information and political war, which the Ukrainian authorities are waging against Russia, involving different international institutions, such as the U.N. International Court in The Hague,” he added.
Analysts described the ruling Wednesday as balanced and expected.
“Meaning that, well, it’s a pretty well-balanced decision when neither Ukrainian nor Russian side can feel like they’ve been somehow, well, humiliated by the decision,” said Nickolay Petrov, head of the Center for Political Geographic Research. “And, at the same time, it’s only the beginning of a long-term process.”
Russia has already rejected the authority of the court, which does not have the ability to enforce any of its rulings.
“Yes, but symbols do play a very important role in international politics,” noted Petrov. “That’s why Russian authorities do pay a lot of attention on different international court rulings. And, it’s understandable that they’re trying to avoid any cases where Russia can be really punished for violating international laws.”
While the ICJ rejected making immediate demands against Russia for supporting Ukraine’s rebels, it urged both sides not to take any actions that would aggravate the conflict.