In a case lasting nine years, the ICJ rejected most of Ukraine’s allegations of ethnic discrimination and terrorism financing by Russia.
By VERONIKA MELKOZEROVA
Jan 31, 2024
Ukraine declared itself underwhelmed by a Wednesday judgment from the International Court of Justice in The Hague in a 9-year-old case accusing Russia of supporting terrorism and racial discrimination. The court found that Russia had failed to “prevent and suppress the commission of offenses of terrorism financing” in relation to the activities of armed groups in Donetsk and Luhansk provinces in eastern Ukraine, which have been occupied by Moscow since 2014.
The judgment also acknowledged that Russia had broken its obligation to not discriminate against the Ukrainian-speaking minority in the field of education, citing an 80 percent drop in the number of Ukrainian schools in occupied Crimea.
However, the court did not support the majority of Ukraine’s charges against Russia, including over its dismantling of the Mejilis, the highest representative body of Crimean Tatars, and numerous illegal arrests following its occupation of Crimea. Tatars are a Turkic-speaking ethnic group and form a minority in Crimea. “I am disappointed by the toothless decision of the court,” Lana Zerkal, Ukraine’s former deputy foreign minister and its representative to the court, told POLITICO. “This is a bare minimum of what we demanded.”
Zerkal said the United Nations court had an opportunity to create a historic precedent by recognizing a state as a sponsor of terrorism, noting that Russia has supplied armed groups in Ukraine’s east with rockets, bombs and money — knowing they would be used to kill and intimidate civilians.
However, the court restricted its definition of terrorism financing to registered online financial operations, thereby excluding cash, weapons and ammunition. This despite a 2022 verdict by a Dutch court sentencing two Russian nationals and a Ukrainian separatist to life in jail for the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 over Ukraine. The guilty men used a Russian-made BUK missile system supplied to them by Moscow. “This creates a legislative vacuum,” Zerkal said. “Nowadays, terrorism financing comes in every form — including cash, weapons, and bitcoins. But the conservative U.N. court ruled it is not terrorism financing if it is not a standard money transfer.”
Ukraine’s second claim was also largely disallowed, with judges saying they lacked enough evidence that the Mejilis ban was made on the basis of race.
Zerkal said that for her, it is now clear that Russia would not be punished for its actions in Ukraine since 2014. “I think this is a sign of the times. Just like the U.N. Security Council can’t do anything, the U.N. court also can’t.”
Ukraine filed the complaints in 2017, claiming numerous violations of the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, and of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Veronika Melkozerova is a reporter for POLITICO Europe and her work has also been featured in The Atlantic. She specializes in covering geopolitical conflicts, with a focus on Eastern Europe and Russia. Veronika’s articles provide in-depth analysis and reporting on the tensions, political dynamics, and military developments in the region.