Ukraine and Russia face off in U.N. court over separatist conflict

By Stephanie van den Berg
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Ukrainian medical servicemen stand on an Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC) after they carried wounded servicemen to hospital in Ukraine-controlled town of Avdiivka, in Donetsk region on January 30, 2017.A sudden surge in clashes between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed rebels killed at least six people on January 30, 2017 despite a supposed truce in Ukraine's war-scarred east. The overall death toll for the past two days rose to 11 after the bloodiest outburst of violence since the former Soviet republic and its foes agreed an "indefinite" ceasefire last month. The violence coincided with a visit by Ukrainian Petro Poroshenko to Berlin at which he urgend German Chancellor Angela Merket to step up economic sanctions on Russia for its interference in his ex-Soviet State. / AFP / Aleksey FILIPPOV (Photo credit should read ALEKSEY FILIPPOV/AFP/Getty Images)

By Stephanie van den Berg

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Tensions between Ukraine and Russia will play out at the U.N.'s highest court on Monday when judges begin hearing Kiev's request to order Moscow to halt support for pro-Russian separatists.

Ukraine launched the case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which handles disputes between states, in January.

It accuses Moscow of violating United Nations anti-terrorism and anti-discrimination conventions by supporting pro-Russian groups in Crimea and in eastern Ukraine, where fighting has claimed roughly 10,000 lives in the past three years.

Russia has repeatedly denied sending troops or military equipment to eastern Ukraine and is expected to challenge the jurisdiction of the court.

Tensions have escalated since a group of Ukrainian politicians and military veterans last month launched a rail blockade of shipments, including coal, from separatist-controlled areas, causing economic pain on both sides.

Ukraine says in its filing that separatist forces, backed by Moscow, have carried out terrorist acts. It cites the bombardment of residential areas and the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 in July 2014, which killed 298 passengers and crew.

In September 2016, a six-country investigative team led by the Netherlands said the plane had been shot down with a Russian-manufactured Buk surface-to-air missile from an area controlled by pro-Russian forces. The team had not yet identified suspects.

Russia has dismissed the findings of the Dutch-led international prosecutors as biased and politically motivated.

The U.N. court takes years to hear cases. Although its rulings are final and binding, it has no means of enforcement.

Monday's largely procedural hearings will focus on so-called provisional measures, which the parties may request to ensure that there is no aggravation or extension of the conflict.

In a similar case brought by Georgia against Russia, also based on the anti-discrimination treaty, the court found in 2011 that it had no jurisdiction.

(Editing by Anthony Deutsch and Mark Trevelyan)