The top court of the United Nations ruled on Friday that it would take up the question of whether Ukraine committed genocide in its Donetsk and Luhansk regions, an accusation at the heart of Russia’s argument for its 2022 full-scale invasion.
The ruling came in a case brought by Ukraine to the International Court of Justice. The court said that Ukraine’s claim that there was no credible evidence that Kyiv was “responsible for committing genocide” in its Donetsk and Luhansk regions was admissible and that it would examine that claim on its merits.
The case, which will likely take many months to complete, will give a legal answer to one of the central allegations made by Russia against Ukraine — that Kyiv has been committing genocide against Russian speakers in the country’s east.
In his February 2022 speech that announced the invasion of Ukraine, President Vladimir V. Putin said that the purpose of the “special military operation,” as Russia has called the war, was to “protect people who, for eight years now, have been facing humiliation and genocide perpetrated by the Kyiv regime.”
Ukraine denounced Russia’s genocide allegations at the time, calling them “manipulative.” Shortly after the invasion Ukraine’s foreign affairs ministry said they served as an excuse for Russia’s “unlawful aggression.”
Two days after the Russian attack, Ukraine brought its case to the court, which is based in The Hague, in the Netherlands, arguing that the genocide allegation was false and therefore Russia’s use of force against it was a violation of the Genocide Convention.
In its Friday ruling, the court dismissed jurisdiction over that claim by Ukraine as well as its allegation that Moscow violated the convention by recognizing separatist republics in Ukraine’s east as independent states. But the panel of 16 judges said it would rule on whether Ukraine committed genocide in its Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
In Russia, the court’s decision was celebrated as a victory. The country’s foreign affairs ministry said in a statement that Ukraine’s case “fell apart” and that the government in Kyiv had “put itself in the dock” and had “shot itself in the foot.”
But should the court rule in Ukraine’s favor, that would dismiss Russia’s claim that Kyiv had committed genocide against Russian speakers in the country’s east, which has been at the heart of Moscow’s argument for invasion and overall hostility toward the Ukrainian government. The court’s rulings are legally binding, but it has no way to enforce them.
In 2021, the last year before the invasion, 25 people were killed in the eastern areas and 85 injured because of the conflict, according to a U.N. report.