UD. 22 April 2017.  

By Iryna Terlecky.

A week in which Ukraine has some successes abroad but fewer at home.

ICJ ‘partly’ supports Ukraine

In January, Ukraine lodged a case against Russia with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. The ICJ acts as a world court and hears cases relating to international law which are submitted by member States or the United Nations. 

Ukraine’s case was based on Russia’s actions in both Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, and asserted that Russia had been “intervening militarily … financing acts of terrorism and violating the human rights of millions of Ukraine’s citizens, including, for all too many, their right to life.” Ukraine asked for provisional measures to be taken ahead of a final ruling on the case, as ICJ cases can take months or even years to resolve.

According to Ukraine’s case, Kyiv is seeking “full reparations for … acts of terrorism the Russian Federation has caused, facilitated or supported,” in Ukraine. It called for Russia to end “racial discrimination” against Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians in Crimea, which was invaded and seized by Russia in late February and early March 2014. The case also accused Russia of being responsible for the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 on 17 July 2014.

The International Court of Justice in The Hague on April 19 published its initial conclusions on Ukraine’s case. The ruling itself is complex and reflects a number of international laws as well as the burden of evidence that Ukraine presented. 

The ICJ rejected a request from Ukraine for provisional measures against Russia to stop the Kremlin sending arms, equipment, soldiers and money to support terrorist groups in the Donbas. The ICJ, in its ruling, said that it was unable to accept Ukraine’s claim that Russia was financing terrorist groups in the Donbas, as Ukraine had not provided sufficient evidence for the claim in relation to Russia’s intention, knowledge and purpose. In particular, Ukraine had not managed to prove its claim that Russia was intentionally transferring money to separatists in the Donbas, the court said, though it acknowledged that the conflict in Eastern Ukraine had brought death and injury to many civilians.

But the court did acknowledge that Russia had a case to answer on charges that it was discriminating against ethnic Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars in Crimea. The ICJ concluded that, according to the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination, Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians in Crimea appear to remain vulnerable. The Court noted that reports by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the OSCE Human Rights Assessment Mission on Crimea, as well as the banning of the Mejlis (the representative parliament of the Crimean Tatars) showed that there have been limitations on the ability of the Crimean Tatars to choose their representative institutions, and restrictions in terms of the availability of Ukrainian-language education in Crimean schools. The Court concluded from this that there is an imminent risk of irreparable prejudice to the rights under the Convention.

According to the court’s ruling, Russia must refrain from maintaining or imposing limitations on the ability of the Crimean Tatar community to conserve its representative institutions, including the Mejlis. The Russian authorities must also ensure Crimean citizens can be educated in the Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar languages in schools on the occupied peninsula.

In spite of this partial judicial victory for Ukraine, it is highly unlikely that anything in Crimea or Eastern Ukraine will change. Russia has previously said it does not recognize the jurisdiction of the court in the case and the court itself has no way to enforce its rulings.

Poroshenko in the UK

In March, on the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the UK and Ukraine, Prime Minister Teresa May invited President Poroshenko for talks. In a strong message of support, the Prime Minister reiterated the UK’s strong support for Ukraine and said the the UK “remains steadfast in its rejection of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea”, that it was vital for Russia’s aggression in Eastern Ukraine to stop and that Russia should abide by its commitments in the Minsk agreement. 

On 19 April, President Poroshenko met separately with both the Prime Minister at Downing St and with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. Poroshenko expressed gratitude to the UK for its consistent support of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. 

Discussion ranged widely, including the latest developments in Donbas. Both sides underscored the importance of maintaining EU’s sanctions against Russia until it fully complies with its obligations under the Minsk accords and the territorial integrity of Ukraine is restored. Also discussed were the continuation of Britain’s technical and financial assistance to Ukraine as well as the strengthening of bilateral military cooperation to counter Russian aggression.

Special attention was paid to economic cooperation and the launch of a dialogue aimed at simplifying the issuance of British visas to Ukrainian citizens. The parties agreed to hold an international conference on Ukraine’s reforms in London on 6 July. They also discussed taking steps to bolster cooperation in the field of cybersecurity and countering propaganda.

In a speech at Chatham House, President Poroshenko underlined the continuing importance of support for a sovereign Ukraine and for strong sanctions to stay in place. 

He quoted Winston Churchill, who said in 1942: ‘Everyone hopes if he feeds a crocodile, the crocodile will eat him later than everyone else’. For Ukraine and Europe, Russia was that crocodile. There were some who hoped that if Russia was fully fed it would not seek to spread its influence any further. But President Poroshenko warned that Russia could not be sated. “Russia will not be fed up. It does not believe in democracy and human rights – only in domination over the world; it just doesn’t play by the rules.” 

President Poroshenko reminded everyone that Russia does not keep its promises. “As a member of Minsk process, I have met Putin many times, and we had a lot of discussions, together with Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel. Endless promises by Putin, and – nothing happened. No effective ceasefire, no withdrawal of heavy weaponry, and no releasing of prisoners, illegally held in the occupied territories of Ukraine and in Russia. There’s no peace in Ukraine because Russia is not interested in peace.” 

UK government representatives gave assurances that withdrawal from the European Union will not affect the level of cooperation between the UK and Ukraine. However, once the UK becomes embroiled in Brexit negotiations – which look set to be difficult – it is far from clear how much attention the government will be able to pay to Ukraine to fulfil its assurances. In addition, other world tensions, over Syria and North Korea may overshadow the conflict in Ukraine, both in western column inches and western political priorities – as they have done in recent months.

Justice at home

Amid mounting frustration from civic activists at the painfully ineffective judicial process aimed at prosecuting those responsible for the murder of protesters on Maidan in 2014, four more former members of the Berkut special police regiment have fled to Russia, according to a video published on 14 April. 

Vitaly Honcharenko was released from custody on 6 April on a personal undertaking which, for some reason, the court chose to believe, even though other ex-Berkut officers charged have previously fled to Russia, several of whom have been granted Russian citizenship in a special fast-track procedure. 

On 13 April, Honcharenko crossed, unimpeded, into Russia, together with three former Kharkiv Berkut colleagues, Oleksandr Kostyuk, Vladislav Masteha, and Artem Voilokov. They recorded and published a video in which they reveal that they fled to Russia, because they “understood that it’s dangerous for them to stay in Ukraine.” They had previously pleaded ‘not guilty’ to charges of murder and claimed that they were merely carrying out orders and their constitutional duty to counter radicals and protect the life of law-abiding citizens. 

Valentin Rybin, Honcharenko’s lawyer, has told that the men did not flee, since they were not under any restraint measure, but merely “moved to a safe place”.

With not a single successful prosecution in the last three years, and with a continuing stream of ex-Berkut suspects released from custody and allowed to flee Ukraine, civic activists are rightly suspicious about the trust they can place on Ukraine’s judicial system and on the integrity of a government which promised justice for the murdered protesters. The questions which remain unanswered are not only why justice is so far away, but who is benefiting from the chaotic and ineffectual process – or indeed, orchestrating it.

And finally…

Ukraine’s preparations for the Eurovision final are in full swing, though the furore over their ban on Russia’s wheelchair-bound entrant Yuliya Samoilova for her participation in a concert in Crimea, has not abated. Ukraine has held its ground over the ban in spite of pressure from the European Broadcasting Union and Russia has retaliated by saying it will not televise the final. Ukraine’s view is that while they fully support inclusiveness and diversity, their red line is that Ukraine’s laws must be respected.



Ukrayinska Dumka


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