In a key moment for the Ukrainian crisis, the UN's highest court will rule Wednesday on a bid by Kiev to stop Russia allegedly pumping money, arms and troops into the country's war-torn east.
Three years into a bloody conflict that has claimed more than 10,000 lives, Ukraine is urging the International Court of Justice to help bring stability to its volatile east.
Kiev is also calling on The Hague-based court to order Moscow to halt what it calls “racial discrimination” against minority groups in the Russian-occupied Crimea peninsula, particularly against its Tatar population.
The ICJ was set up in 1945 to settle disputes between countries in line with international law.
Ukraine lodged its case in January, accusing Russia of violating the Terrorism Financing Convention and an international treaty against racial discrimination. Moscow rejects the allegations.
In its filing, Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, charged Russia with “sponsoring terrorism” by financing pro-Russian separatists and failing to stop military aid from seeping across the border into eastern Ukraine's Donbas region.
It called on the court's 15 judges to rule that “the Russian Federation bears international responsibility” for “acts of terrorism committed by its proxies in Ukraine”.
These include the shelling and bombing of civilians and the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, shot down by a Russian-made Buk-missile over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014.
Ukraine wants Russia to pay compensation to all civilians caught up in the conflict — one of Europe's bloodiest since the 1990s Balkans wars — as well as to the families of the 298 victims of MH17.
As it can take months for the ICJ to even decide to hear a case, Ukraine also filed an application seeking interim protection measures.
In the interim application, Ukraine is seeking a court order calling on the tribunal to order Russia to refrain from “any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute” or make it more difficult to resolve, including a halt to the funnelling of money, weapons, equipment and personnel into the east.
It also urges the tribunal to order Moscow to control its borders in eastern Ukraine and halt racial discrimination in the Crimea, particularly against the Tatars.
After hearings in March, the ICJ will rule on the interim application on Wednesday.
Moscow has strongly denied Kiev's terrorism claims, saying they were “neither factual nor legal” and argued that the ICJ does not have jurisdiction over the case.
“The Russian Federation complies fully with its obligations under (the) treaties that are now relied upon by Ukraine,” Moscow representative Roman Kolodkin told the court last month.
The drawn-out conflict, in which Russia also annexed Ukraine's southern peninsula of Crimea in March 2014, has pushed ties between Moscow and the West to their lowest point since the Cold War.
Although the ICJ's rulings are binding, the court has no power of its own to enforce them.
That would fall onto the UN Security Council, in which Russia — as a permanent member — wields a veto power.
International relations expert Ko Colijn, a research fellow at the Clingedael Institute thinktank in The Hague, said Moscow was unlikely to be affected by the ruling.
“I expect them to ignore the verdict, whether it's positive or negative,” Colijn said.
Ukrainian Justice Minister Pavlo Petrenko said in a statement on Thursday that immediately after the ruling, Kiev would unveil “new, very interesting evidence” that would refute what he called “many of Russia's lies and Russia's propaganda”.