The entrance of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. Picture: REUTERS/Jerry Lampen
The entrance of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. Picture: REUTERS/Jerry Lampen

The Hague — Russia has objected to a move by Ukraine to drag it before the world’s oldest arbitration tribunal over access to coastal waters around annexed Crimea.

Moscow’s lawyers said the permanent court of arbitration in The Hague had no jurisdiction over the case brought by Kiev over the Black Sea, Sea of Azov and Kerch Strait.

Russia snatched the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, and Ukraine filed a case with the court in 2016, saying Moscow was illegally blocking access to coastal waters around it.

“This tribunal does not have the jurisdiction to determine Ukraine’s claims,” Russia’s representative Dmitry Lobach told the court on Monday.

“It is clear that the thrust of Ukraine’s claims is over Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea and the maritime zones. Despite the high regard with which Russia regards this tribunal, it cannot determine which state is sovereign over Crimea.”

Lobach said: “In no way can Russia’s claim to sovereignty over Crimea be characterised as abusive.”

Russia cited the tribunal’s previous refusal to deal with a case involving the sovereignty of the Chagos Islands, which are owned by Britain but claimed by Mauritius. That case eventually went to the international court of justice, also based in The Hague, with the court ruling that Britain should return control of the islands to Mauritius as soon as possible.

Moscow’s lawyers, meanwhile, argued that another case, in which the permanent court of arbitration ruled in favour of the Philippines in a case over access to the South China Sea in waters claimed by China, was not relevant.

Ukraine’s lawyers will respond on Tuesday.

Russia in November fired on and seized three Ukrainian navy vessels, capturing dozens of sailors near the Kerch Strait, as they tried to pass from the Black Sea to the Azov Sea.

The incident was the first open military clash between Kiev and Moscow since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and a pro-Russian insurgency erupted in eastern Ukraine.

Set up in 1899, the permanent court of arbitration is the world’s oldest court of arbitration. It resolves disputes between countries and private parties by referring to contracts, special agreements and various treaties, such as the UN convention on the law of the sea.