“The case brought by Ukraine should be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction,” Dmitry Lobach, Russia’s ambassador-at-large who is representing Moscow in the case, told The Hague-based World Court on Monday.
The armed confrontations between Kiev and pro-Russia forces, which have so far claimed some 13,000 lives, began when a wave of protests in Ukraine overthrew a democratically-elected pro-Russia government and replaced it with a pro-West administration.
The majority in those areas refused to endorse the new administration, and have turned the two regions of Donetsk and Lugansk – collectively known as the Donbass -into self-proclaimed republics. Kiev and its Western allies accuse Moscow of having a hand in the crisis. Moscow, however, denies the allegations.
Furthermore, relations between Moscow and the West have deteriorated since 2014, when Crimea, a peninsula on the northern coast of the Black Sea, rejoined Russia following a referendum where more than 90 percent of participants voted in favor of the move. Crimea’s population is largely ethnically Russian but used to be part of Ukraine.
Ukraine and the West brand the reunification as annexation of Ukrainian land by Russia. The US and the European Union (EU) has since imposed several round of harsh sanctions on Russia.
Back in 2017, Kiev filed a case at the ICJ and asked the court to order Moscow to stop alleged funding and equipping of pro-Russian forces, and to halt purported discrimination of the Tartar ethnic group in Crimea.
Russia has since repeatedly rejected both allegations, saying Ukraine’s claim is a roundabout way of having the ICJ rule on the legality of Crimean people’s move in reunifying the peninsula with the Russian Federation.
Elsewhere in his remarks, Lobach denied Ukraine’s allegation that Moscow was behind the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over rebel-held Ukraine back in July 2014 and had thereby violated the UN anti-terrorism convention.
He said Kiev had failed to demonstrate that Moscow had the “intent and knowledge” required by the convention which would trigger jurisdiction of the court.
The airline crashed after reportedly being hit projectile, killing 298 passengers and crew.
Lobach said a six-country investigative team, led by the Netherlands – which concluded that the launcher carrying the surface-to-air missile had come from a Russian base – provided “no answer why the aircraft was shot down and who was responsible.”
This week’s hearings will only focus on the question of whether the ICJ has jurisdiction over the issues, a decision on which could be rendered late this year or early next year.