Ukraine dragged Russia before the International Court of Justice only a few days after the invasion, seeking to battle its neighbour on all fronts, legal as well as diplomatic and military.
When Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion on February 24, 2022, part of his argument was that pro-Russian people in eastern Ukraine had been “subjected to bullying and genocide by the Kyiv regime”.
Ukraine filed a suit at the ICJ, “emphatically denying” this and arguing that Russia’s use of “genocide” as a pretext for invasion went against the 1948 UN Genocide Convention.
In a preliminary ruling in March 2022, the ICJ sided with Ukraine and ordered Russia to halt its invasion immediately.
But Russia objected to this judgement, saying the ICJ, which decides on disputes between states, had no legal right to decide in this case.
The ICJ Friday tossed out Moscow’s argument, saying it did indeed have jurisdiction to rule on Ukraine’s argument that “there is no credible evidence that Ukraine is responsible for committing genocide,” over which Russia justified its invasion.
However, Ukraine had also claimed in its submission that Russia’s use of force during the invasion was itself in contravention of the Genocide Convention.
The ICJ said it did not have competence to decide on this part of the case.
The court also said it did not have the power to rule on another point raised by Ukraine — that Moscow’s recognition of the separatist regions of Lugansk and Donetsk breached the Convention.
Ukraine’s lead lawyer Anton Korynevych declared the ICJ ruling a “victory for Ukraine” and hailed the fact that the case will now continue.
“It is important that the court will decide on the issue that Ukraine is not responsible for some mythical genocide that the Russian Federation falsely alleged Ukraine has been committing since 2014 in Donbas,” he told reporters.
The ICJ’s rulings are binding and cannot be appealed but it has no means to enforce its decisions.
The court noted that it had already ordered Russia back in March 2022 to “immediately suspend” its military operations but that “the armed conflict continues to this day.”
“Every day of Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine is a violation of this… order,” said Korynevych. Those orders remain valid while the case continues.
Representatives from the Russian side declined to speak to media after the judgement.
Thirty-two allies of Ukraine also argued in support of Kyiv. The ICJ dismissed a bid by the United States to join the case.
This is the second major case at the ICJ concerning the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
The ICJ ruled Wednesday in a separate case filed by Ukraine alleging that Russia financially backed separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine for years before the invasion.
The court mostly sided with Russia in that case, rejecting most of Ukraine’s requests and saying that Moscow had only failed to investigate possible breaches of terrorism financing law.
The ICJ is under heightened scrutiny at the moment with a high-profile case about the war in Gaza.
In a judgement beamed all around the world last Friday, it ordered Israel to take all action necessary to prevent genocide during its operations in response to the October 7 Hamas attack.