Russia and Ukraine faced off in court on Monday as judges in the The Hague began hearing a landmark case brought by Kiev over Moscow's annexation of Crimea and involvement in the war in eastern Ukraine.
The Ukrainian government is asking the International Court of Justice, the United Nations’ highest court, to fine Russia for "intervening militarily in Ukraine, financing acts of terrorism, and violating the human rights of millions of Ukraine's citizens."
Russia, which publicly denies sending troops or military equipment to eastern Ukraine, is widely expected to challenge the jurisdiction of the court.
The document accuses Russia of violating the 1999 International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism by supplying money, weapons, training, and other support to separatists in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics in eastern Ukraine.
It also says Moscow’s treatment of Ukrainian and Tatar minorities in Crimea breaks the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
Ukraine is demanding compensation for what it calls terrorist acts committed on its territory, including the shelling of civilian areas and the shoot down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17.
Monday’s hearing was largely devoted to requests for so-called conditional measures, which sides can ask judges to impose to ensure a conflict does not escalate while the case is being heard.
Olena Zerkal, a deputy foreign minister of Ukraine who headed the country’s delegation in court on Monday, asked judges to order Russia to halt all financial, material, and other support to separatists forces while the case is heard.
She said she was requesting “protection of the basic human rights of Ukrainian people."
"Russian Federation tactics include support for terrorism and acts of racial discrimination, as well as propaganda, subversion, intimidation, political corruption and cyber attacks," she said.
The United Nations court can take years to hear cases, and although its rulings are final and binding it has no means of enforcing them.
Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, shortly after a pro-European revolution in Kiev ousted Viktor Yanukovych, the country’s Moscow-leaning president.
About 10,000 people have died in a war that erupted between government forces and Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country shortly afterwards.
Flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, killing all 298 people on board.
In September last year, a Dutch-led investigative team said the airliner was downed by a Buk anti-aircraft missile that had been brought from Russia and fired from an area controlled by separatist forces. Russia has denied involvement in the shoot down.