Russia, meanwhile, has been looking for new leverage against Ukraine, weakened by its unwilling involvement in the latest American scandal.
Now the judges will hear the substance of the Ukrainian case. The allegations stem from the Russian seizure of Crimea in the spring of 2014 and sponsorship of a separatist rebellion that began immediately after, one that has now killed 13,000 people.
Ukraine argues that Russian authorities who assumed power in Crimea have been discriminating against Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians there. And it has consistently labeled the pro-Moscow separatist fighters in Donetsk and Luhansk regions as “terrorists.”
Both allegations are covered under international pacts that both Ukraine and Russia have signed: the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Russia has denied the allegations — despite considerable evidence. The Kremlin claims it is not involved in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, and that minority rights in the country are not infringed.
The court, affiliated with the United Nations, can direct defending nations to pay damages or reparations, or order other sorts of remedies. Countries are bound by its decisions, but they can be overturned by the U.N. Security Council — of which Russia is a permanent member.
The Crimean Tatars are a Muslim group who have lived there since before Russian expansion into the peninsula in the 18th century. They were brutally suppressed and exiled to Asia by Stalin, and had enjoyed more autonomy during the years of Ukrainian rule — from 1991 to 2014 — than at any time before.
They have become the most vocal dissidents against Moscow in that region, and have suffered harassment and arrests. Kyiv also argues that ethnic Ukrainians who have refused to identify as Russian citizens have been subject to discrimination.
In addition to arguing that the International Court of Justice does not have jurisdiction, Russia also claimed that Ukraine had not exhausted other potential remedies to the disputes, including negotiation or submitting them to arbitration.
But in its ruling the court noted that Kyiv had delivered notice to Moscow in 2014 on both allegations, that the two sides had formally discussed the matters several times at meetings in Minsk, Belarus, but “little progress was made by the parties.”
The talks were declared a failure in 2016.
Noting that charges of ethnic discrimination carry with them an urgency to act, the court — more than five years after the complaint was first brought — said it should move forward with the case. The ruling, which took nearly an hour to read, was delivered in English by the court’s president, Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf of Somalia.
The judges voted 13-3 against Russia on the financing of terrorism count, and 15-1 on the discrimination count.
The ruling made clear that the court has not considered either count on its merits.