An extraordinary thing happened in The Hague this week.
While addressing what he called “the appalling loss of life caused by the shooting down of flight MH17” a lawyer representing Russia in the International Court of Justice failed to issue the stock-standard Kremlin denial.
Before we deal with what he said, let’s remind ourselves of what the Russians normally say about MH17.
In September last year, a Dutch-led joint investigation team (JIT) concluded a Buk missile brought across the border from Russia into a Ukrainian village controlled by pro-Russian separatists shot down Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 killing 298 people, including 38 Australian citizens and residents.
Russia dismissed the findings. Their officials have consistently denied any weapons, soldiers or equipment were deployed across the border in Ukraine.
Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenko said at the time: “Russian missile defence systems, including ‘BUK’, have never crossed the Russian-Ukraine border.”
Igor Konashenko has maintained Russian missile defence systems never crossed into Ukraine. (Reuters: Maxim Zmeyev)
But that is not the argument currently being made in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) by Russia’s lawyer.
Maybe that’s because he’s British.
Lawyer does not offer customary full denial
London lawyer Samuel Wordsworth QC, a visiting professor at Kings College, is defending Russia in the ICJ against the Ukrainian Government’s claims Vladimir Putin’s federation is financially supporting terrorism by backing separatist rebels.
The case is a complicated one. The Wordsworth defence is interesting not only for what it says, but for what it doesn’t say.
“There is no evidence before the court,” he told the judges, “plausible or otherwise, that Russia provided weaponry to any party with the intent or knowledge that such weaponry be used to shoot down civilian aircraft, as would of course be required under Article 2.1.”
(Article 2.1 is a key section of the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism).
Mr Wordsworth did not run the normal Kremlin defence. Instead he said there was no evidence of intent to provide weapons to shoot down a civilian aircraft.
Wordsworth cites dismissed JIT report as evidence
It is not an unreasonable argument, but it is a long way from what Russia is normally willing to say.
So, what did Russia’s top silk quote to back up his legal case? The Dutch-led JIT report that has been consistently dismissed by Russia as biased, politically motivated and full of fabricated evidence.
“There was no such evidence in the JIT video extracts that you were shown yesterday,” he told the court.
“These show the alleged delivery of a weapon by Russia, nothing more.”
To further hammer the Ukrainian case, he accused their legal team of not quoting enough evidence from the joint investigation team’s report.
“Ukraine has elected not to put before you the contents of the alleged intercepts … which show quite clearly that whoever was allegedly supplying this Buk was acting in response to a series of armed strikes by Ukraine’s military aircraft,” he said.
Samuel Wordsworth QC’s logic may end up winning a critical case for Russia in the ICJ, but he may in the process expose some of the holes in the Kremlin’s defence of who supplied the Buk missile that killed 298 innocent people.
8 March 2017 | 10:39 pm
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