Russia, Ukraine Set for Court Clash Over Alleged Atrocities

(Bloomberg) — Russia and Ukraine will face off at Europe’s top human rights court over claims that Moscow-led forces tortured and killed Ukrainian police and civilians during their annexation of Crimea five years ago.

It’s the first public hearing at the European Court of Human Rights in the bitter dispute since Ukraine filed its claim in 2014, shortly after Russia occupied and then took control of the Black Sea peninsula. Russia was suspended from the assembly of the Council of Europe, which oversees the human rights court, for its aggression and was only readmitted in June.

Ukraine also claims Russian militia harassed and intimidated priests and journalists. Russia denies the allegations.

Russia’s readmission to the Council of Europe assembly was supported by Germany and France, and at the G-7 Summit in Biarritz, France last month, French President Emmanuel Macron said isolating Russia from Europe would be a “profound” error. That may be playing into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strategy, said Orysia Lutsevych, a research fellow at Chatham House in charge of its Ukraine program.

‘We’re Changing’

“Putin is trying to create an impression that ‘we’re changing and being cooperative’ so Russia will engage with the hearings but it doesn’t mean they will comply with the decision,” she said.

Russia has shown little respect for other international courts where it’s been sued over its annexation of Crimea. The world’s largest country argued in 2017 that the United Nations’ International Court of Justice had no authority to rule on allegations it was supplying weapons to separatists in Ukraine and repressing the rights of people in Crimea.

Then in May, Russia refused to participate in proceedings at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, which ruled 19-1 to order Russia to hand over three Ukrainian ships and two dozen sailors seized in the Kerch Strait, separating Crimea from mainland Russia.

The Ukrainians were eventually let go last weekend but “they were released because of the prisoner swap not the tribunal for the law of the sea,” said Lutsevych. “Russia will engage but any resolution coming out of it they will ignore.”

‘Strong Team’

Russia has assembled a “strong team of lawyers” to defend its case in Strasbourg, Russian Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov said in an emailed statement.

“The Russian Federation acted in accordance with international law, didn’t violate any norms of international law, didn’t violate anyone’s interests,” he said.

The Ukraine-Russia dispute dominates interstate proceedings at the European Court of Human Rights, accounting for five of eight such applications currently before the tribunal. Still, Ukraine’s Deputy Justice Minister Ivan Lishchyna said in an interview that it’s an achievement the hearing is finally happening.

“We have a very strong case,” said Lishchyna, who is representing Ukraine in the court. Russia “does not refute that its troops were in Crimea, he added. “Ukraine puts forward well-founded demands against the Russian Federation for violations on the territory of Crimea.”

–With assistance from Ilya Arkhipov.

To contact the reporters on this story: Hugo Miller in Geneva at hugomiller@bloomberg.net;Daryna Krasnolutska in Kiev at dkrasnolutsk@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at aaarons@bloomberg.net, Peter Chapman, Torrey Clark

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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