Ukraine says panel has jurisdiction to hear Russia case

Ukraine has accused Russia of "wholesale violations" of its mineral resources and fishing rights in the Black Sea

THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- Ukraine on Tuesday accused Russia of "wholesale violations" of its mineral resources and fishing rights in the Black Sea and other waters bordered by the two countries as Kiev urged international arbitrators to hear a case about alleged Russian breaches of a United Nations maritime treaty.

Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Olena Zerkal told a five-judge arbitration panel that Russia's objections to the panel's jurisdiction "are without legal merit."

Preliminary hearings at the Permanent Court of Arbitration stem from Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea, a move that Ukraine and most of the world view as illegal. But Zerkal insisted they are focused specifically on Russian breaches of Ukraine's rights under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, which covers issues such as mineral and fishing rights.

Since Russia's annexation of Crimea, it has set about modernizing the region, including building a 19-kilometer (11.8-mile) bridge that opened last year across the Kerch Strait, which links the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. The $3.6-billion project gave Crimea a land link to Russia.

"Russia built an illegal bridge across an international strait. It harasses ships of all countries as they navigate to and from Ukrainian ports," Zerkal said. "It steals our energy resources within our maritime areas. It excludes our fishermen from the waters they have always fished. Together, these violations show Russia's complete disrespect for the international law of the sea."

Lawyers representing Moscow urged the arbitration panel Monday to throw out Ukraine's claim for lack of jurisdiction, arguing that the dispute is actually about sovereignty over the Crimean Peninsula and falls outside the terms of the convention.

Zerkal disputed that interpretation.

"According to Russia, this case is about sovereignty over Crimea, but it is not," she said. For us and in fact for the whole world it is clear: Crimea is Ukraine."

It is not clear when the arbitration panel will rule on Russia's challenge to its jurisdiction.