PARIS — Russia did not show up to a key international court hearing aimed at putting a legal stop to fighting in Ukraine that is creating Europe’s biggest refugee crisis in years. At issue is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim of "genocide” to justify his invasion of Ukraine.
The empty seats allocated to Russia’s legal team at the International Court of Justice were telling. They gave ammunition to Ukraine’s envoy, Anton Korynevych, as he laid out his country’s arguments against Moscow to The Hague-based body.
"The fact that Russia's seats are empty speaks loudly. They are not here in this court of law: they are on a battlefield waging an aggressive war against my country,” he said.
The ICJ is the world’s highest court for resolving legal disputes between states. Russia was supposed to present arguments Tuesday, but that won’t be happening.
President Vladimir Putin claims he invaded Ukraine to protect people facing bullying and genocide in the eastern part of the country. Both Russia and Ukraine have signed onto an international genocide treaty. Genocide scholars say Putin's claim is baseless. And a French member of Russia’s legal team has resigned, accusing Moscow of "cynically” abusing the law.
Ukraine wants the ICJ to use so-called "provisional measures” at its disposal as a way to end the fighting. The measures aim to prevent a situation from becoming worse.
“Russia must be stopped and the court has a role to play in stopping it. That is why the people of Ukraine, the government of Ukraine, the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, ask you respectfully but urgently to grant our request for provisional measures," said Korynevych.
Predicting horrific and long-term human and environmental consequences from the conflict, Ukraine’s legal team also warned that the court’s ruling carried broader repercussions.
“Members of the court, in less than two weeks this case has become much bigger than Ukraine versus Russia. It has become a test of who will prevail — Russia, or the post-war international legal order,” said a Ukrainian team lawyer.
Besides the ICJ, other international bodies are weighing in on the conflict. The International Criminal Court is investigating Putin for possible war crimes. The Council of Europe, the region’s largest rights body based in Strasbourg France, has suspended Russia’s membership.
The International Court of Justice is expected to respond to Ukraine’s request within days.