March 7, 2017 / 12:10 PM / 2 years ago

Ukraine accused of seeking to litigate Crimea annexation

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Russia accused Ukraine on Tuesday of taking it to court under false pretences, using allegations of financing terrorism and ethnic discrimination as a front to litigate Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula three years ago.

The accusation came on the second day of hearings at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, where Ukraine has charged that Russia is financing separatist groups who carry out “terrorist” attacks in eastern Ukraine and that Russia is discriminating against Crimea’s ethnic Tartars.

Those actions violate two international treaties, Ukraine says.

Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 after weeks of increasingly violent street clashes led Ukraine’s Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovych to flee the country. The annexation brought east-west tensions to their highest pitch in decades.

This week’s hearings relate to Ukraine’s request for an order that Russia halt the alleged activities. The broader question of whether they are taking place will take longer to resolve: ICJ cases often last years.

Lawyers for Russia urged judges to reject Ukraine’s case, since the Black Sea peninsula’s annexation was beyond its jurisdiction.

“Ukraine uses the word ‘terrorism’ as a pretext for seizing this court,” Russian foreign ministry official Ilya Rogachev said.

Russia has repeatedly denied sending troops or military equipment to eastern Ukraine, where a war has been raging between the Moscow-backed separatists and forces loyal to Kiev ever since Yanukovych’s deposition.

The provisional measures Ukraine requests include a freeze on providing money, weapons, vehicles, equipment, training or personnel to the separatists.

Ukraine says in its filing the pro-Russian separatists were responsible for the bombardment of residential areas and the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 in July 2014, in which 298 passengers and crew - many of them Dutch - were killed.

In September 2016, a six-country investigative team led by the Netherlands said the plane had been shot down with a Russian-manufactured Buk surface-to-air missile from an area controlled by pro-Russian forces.

Outside the courthouse, relatives of the Dutch victims of the MH-17 disaster held a small demonstration. “We are here to call on Russia to take responsibility,” said Thomas Schansman, who lost his son in the crash.

Russia has dismissed the findings as biased and politically motivated.

While the ICJ’s rulings are final and cannot be appealed, it has few means of enforcing its rulings. In the past, powerful countries have ignored its rulings or boycotted its hearings.

Editing By Thomas Escritt, Larry King

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