By Stephanie van den Berg
THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Russia and Ukraine will square off before the International Court of Justice on Monday in a case that centres around claims by Moscow that its invasion of Ukraine was done to prevent genocide.
Ukraine brought the case to the United Nations' highest court just days after the Russian invasion on Feb. 24 last year. Kyiv argues Russia is abusing international law by saying the invasion was justified to prevent an alleged genocide in eastern Ukraine.
Russian officials continue to accuse Ukraine of committing genocide.
Russia wants the case to be thrown out and objects to the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The hearings, set to run until Sept. 27, will not delve into the merits of the case and are instead focused on legal arguments about jurisdiction.
Moscow says Ukraine is using the case as a roundabout way to get a ruling on the overall legality of its military action.
Ukraine has already cleared one hurdle as the court decided in its favour in a preliminary decision in the case in March last year. Based on that, the court ordered Russia to cease military actions in Ukraine immediately.
In the hearings the court will also hear from 32 other states, all supporting Ukraine's argument that the court has jurisdiction to move the case forward.
"It is looking fairly positive for the court to find it has jurisdiction," Juliette McIntyre, a law lecturer at the University of South Australia and ICJ watcher, said.
While Russia has so far ignored the ICJ's orders to stop its military actions and the court has no way of enforcing its decisions, experts say an eventual ruling in favour of Ukraine could be important for any future reparations claims.
"If the court finds there was no lawful justification under the Genocide Convention for Russia's acts, the decision can set up a future claim for compensation," McIntyre said.
The United Nations' 1948 Genocide Convention defines genocide as crimes committed "with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such."
(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Susan Fenton)