By Stephanie van den Berg
THEHAGUE (Reuters) – The top United Nations court rules on Friday on whether it has jurisdiction to hear a case brought by Ukraine against Russia over Moscow’s alleged support of pro-Russian separatists in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
In a hearing at the International Court of Justice in June, Moscow asked judges to dismiss the suit, saying Kiev was using it as pretext for a ruling on the legality of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
Friday’s hearing was to begin at 1400 GMT with a decision expected to be announced within two hours.
The ICJ, or world court, is the leading global court for disputes between nations. A ruling on Moscow’s involvement in Ukraine would set a precedent that could impact other cases dealing with Russia’s alleged link to the July 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over rebel-held eastern Ukraine.
Kiev says Russia’s support for separatist forces in whose territory the plane crashed, killing all 298 passengers and crew, violated a United Nations convention which bans the funding of terrorist groups.
An international investigation led by the Netherlands concluded that the airline was hit by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile that originated from a base in Kursk, in southern Russia not far from Ukraine.
Three Russian nationals and a Ukrainian have been accused of murder and are due to go on trial in absentia in the Netherlands in March.
Russia has repeatedly dismissed the findings of the investigative team and says it had nothing to do with the downing of MH17.
If the world court agrees to proceed with the case, the next step will be a round of hearings on the substance of the case which are likely to take place next year.
Rulings by the ICJ are final and without appeal but the court has no means of enforcing its decisions, which have been disregarded by major powers in the past.
In a 2017 filing, Ukraine asked judges to order Russia to stop alleged funding and equipping of pro-Kremlin forces in the country’s east, and to halt alleged discrimination against the Crimean Tartar ethnic group, something banned under international treaties signed by both countries.
Ukraine’s military and Russian-backed rebel forces began a phased troop withdrawal in the eastern town of Zolote this week, part of a series of measures to end a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014.
(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Anthony Deutsch and Mark Heinrich)