Vladimir Putin on the phone

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks on the phone on February 12, 2022. (Photo: Alexei Nikolsky/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS)

International Court of Justice Orders Russia to Halt Attack on Ukraine

"Russia must comply immediately," said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. "Ignoring the order will isolate Russia even further."

The International Court of Justice on Wednesday ordered the Russian government to immediately halt its invasion of Ukraine, a legally binding decision that Moscow is likely to ignore as it continues bombarding its neighbor.

"The Russian Federation must, pending the final decision in the case, suspend the military operations that it commenced on 24 February 2022 in the territory of Ukraine," reads the preliminary ruling handed down by the United Nations' top court.

Just days after Russia launched its full-scale attack, the Ukrainian government petitioned the ICJ to take legal action against Moscow, which Kyiv accused of unlawfully justifying its invasion by alleging genocide against ethnic Russians in the Donbas.

In an emergency filing at The Hague, Ukraine said that "contrary to what the Russian Federation claims, no acts of genocide, as defined by Article III of the Genocide Convention, have been committed in the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts of Ukraine."

Russia boycotted a hearing on Ukraine's filing last week, a signal that Moscow has no intention of complying with the court's decision.

In its 22-page ruling, the ICJ concluded that "at the present stage of the proceedings, it suffices to observe that the court is not in possession of evidence substantiating the allegation of the Russian Federation that genocide has been committed on Ukrainian territory."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the ICJ's decision "a complete victory," noting that "the order is binding under international law."

"Russia must comply immediately," Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter. "Ignoring the order will isolate Russia even further."

The Washington Postreported Wednesday that despite the binding nature of the ICJ's ruling, the court "does not appear to have a viable path to enforce the decision."

"Sanctions could only be imposed by the U.N. Security Council, of which Russia is a permanent member and where it has a veto power," the Post noted. "The court's mission is to settle disputes between sovereign nations, and it cannot charge presidents or military leaders with war crimes, for example."

Ahead of the hearing on Ukraine's emergency filing, Alain Pellet--a French attorney who had previously represented Russia at the ICJ--resigned from Moscow's legal team, declaring in an open letter that "it has become impossible to represent in forums dedicated to the application of the law a country that so cynically despises it."

"There is no justification," Pellet wrote, "for the use of war to impose a political regime change in Kyiv or a territorial dismemberment of Ukraine."

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