THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Russia on Tuesday rejected allegations that it sponsors terrorism by funneling arms and money to separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine and is also responsible for discriminating against ethnic groups in Crimea.
Roman Kolodkin, the legal director of Russia's foreign ministry, said that a case filed by Ukraine at the International Court of Justice making the allegations is an attempt to draw the court into ruling on "issues between Ukraine and Russia that are clearly beyond the court's jurisdiction in this case."
The opening of a legal front in the long-running dispute between Moscow and Kiev comes as clashes continue between rebels and Ukrainian forces in conflict-torn eastern Ukraine.
Kiev wants the world court to rule that Russia is breaching treaties on terrorist financing and racial discrimination. Hearings this week are focused on Ukraine's request for the court to issue "provisional measures" including an order for Moscow to halt financing to rebels in eastern Ukraine and to stop discriminating against non-Russians in Crimea.
As part of its main case, Ukraine also wants the court to order Russia to pay reparations for the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, the Amsterdam-Kuala Lumpur flight shot out of the sky over eastern Ukraine by a surface-to-air missile on July 17, 2014, killing all 298 people on board.
International investigators have concluded that the Buk missile was fired from territory in eastern Ukraine controlled by Russia-backed rebels, using a mobile launcher trucked in from Russia and hastily returned there, a finding that Moscow rejects.
Parents of victims of the downing demonstrated outside the court Tuesday, setting up signs calling for "Justice for MH17."
"The message is a very simple one: We are asking for the truth regarding the MH17 disaster," said Thomas Schansman, whose 18-year-old son Quinn, a joint Dutch-American national, was killed. "We are asking the Russian government to take responsibility finally for what they did."
Samuel Wordsworth, a lawyer representing Russia, told judges in the ornate Peace Palace that there was no evidence linking Russia to the downing of the aircraft. "There is no evidence, plausible or otherwise, that Russia provided weaponry to any party with the intent or knowledge that such weaponry be used to shoot down civilian aircraft," he said.
Lawyers for Russia said that no international organizations monitoring clashes between rebels and Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine have characterized acts such as indiscriminate shelling as terrorism, and added that Ukrainian forces also were responsible for such shelling in rebel-held regions. They also rejected claims that Russia discriminates against Tatars in Crimea.
The main case will likely take years to resolve. Judges are expected to take weeks to rule on the request for interim measures.