A top Ukrainian diplomat called Russia a "terrorist state" Tuesday as he opened his country's case against Moscow at the United Nations' highest court and accused Russia of blowing up a major dam in southern Ukraine.
Anton Korynevych was addressing judges at the International Court of Justice in a case brought by Kyiv against Russia linked to Moscow's 2014 annexation of Crimea and arming of rebels in eastern Ukraine in the years before Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022.
Ukraine wants the world court to order Moscow to pay reparations for attacks in the regions, including for the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 that was shot down by Russia-backed rebels on July 17, 2014, killing all 298 passengers and crew.
Korynevych said that with Moscow unable to beat Ukraine on the battlefield, "it targets civilian infrastructure to try to freeze us into submission. Earlier today, just today, … Russia blew up a major dam located in Nova Kakhovka, causing significant civilians evacuations, harsh ecological damages and threatening the safety of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Russia's actions are the actions of a terrorist state, an aggressor."
Four days of hearings in the court's ornate, wood-paneled Great Hall of Justice are opening against a backdrop of Europe's deadliest conflict since World War II. Ukraine and Russia are trading accusations of blame for the damage to the Kakhovka dam and hydroelectric power station, which are located in a part of Ukraine that Moscow controls.
Meanwhile, in The Hague, lawyers for Kyiv were presenting legal arguments to support their case Tuesday, followed by Russia on Thursday. Each side has another opportunity next week to present evidence. Judges are expected to take months to issue a judgment.
"The Russian Federation has contempt for international law," Korynevych said. "Over the last 16 months, the world has woken up to this dark reality."
The case is one of several legal proceedings against Russia linked to Ukraine.
In a separate case brought by Ukraine in the immediate aftermath of Russia's illegal invasion, the world court issued a preliminary order calling on Russia to stop hostilities — a legally binding ruling that Moscow ignored.
In that case, Kyiv is arguing that Russia violated the 1948 Genocide Convention by falsely accusing Ukraine of committing genocide and using that as a pretext for the Feb. 24, 2022, invasion. Moscow argues that the court does not have jurisdiction.
A few kilometers (miles) away at the International Criminal Court, judges have issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin on charges of deporting and illegally transferring children from Ukraine. Russia is not a member of the court and does not recognize its jurisdiction.
Meanwhile, a Dutch domestic court last year convicted two Russians and a pro-Moscow Ukrainian for their roles in downing MH17 and sentenced them in their absence to life imprisonment. Ukraine also has another case against Russia at the International Court of Justice over its invasion last year, and the Netherlands and Ukraine are suing Moscow at the European Court of Human Rights over MH17.
Russia has always denied involvement in the downing of the passenger jet that was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down by a Soviet-era missile over eastern Ukraine.
Tuesday's hearing is in a case Kyiv brought in 2017 related to Russia arming rebels in eastern Ukraine and restricting the rights of ethnic Tatars and other minorities following its annexation of Crimea in 2014.
In a preliminary ruling, the court ordered Russia to stop limiting "the ability of the Crimean Tatar community to conserve its representative institutions."