The International Court of Justice has said it cannot hear a complaint by Georgia that Russia committed human rights abuses in two breakaway provinces, saying it had no jurisdiction over the case.
The court in The Hague, the Netherlands, said despite the claims and counter-claims by Russia and Georgia, there was no evidence that the two parties had held negotiations to try and resolve the complaint.
"The court, by 10 votes to six, finds that it has no jurisdiction to entertain the application," Hisashi Owada, president of the UN court, told the hearing on Friday.
Georgia filed a complaint with the court in 2008 towards the end of a five-day war with Russia, accusing its forces of murdering thousands of ethnic Georgians and displacing hundreds of thousands of people in South Ossetia and Abkhazia for nearly two decades.
The former Soviet republic accused Russia of "serious violations" of a 1965 anti-discrimination treaty during three interventions in the regions from 1990 and a "systematic policy" of ethnic discrimination.
Russia, which had asked for the case to be dismissed because Georgia had sparked the five-day war in 2008 with an "unlawful" assault on South Ossetia, welcomed Friday's ruling.
"It is a very, very good decision. It is exactly what we were trying to prove to the court," Kirill Gevorgian, Russia's foreign ministry legal adviser, said.
Tina Burjaliani, Georgia's deputy justice minister, said his country was disappointed by the decision.
"We are disappointed that the court has decided to stop the examination of the dispute due to a procedural technicality," she said.
"This is not the finish of this case. All options remain open."
Georgia had argued that the court had jurisdiction under an international convention on the elimination of racial discrimination. But the disputes under that convention can only be referred to the court if the countries involved have already tried and failed to negotiate a settlement.
The ICJ, which hears disputes between states, ordered both countries in October 2008 to "refrain from any acts of racial discrimination" against ethnic groups in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
South Ossetia and Abkhazia both broke away from Georgian control in the early 1990s. Following the 2008 war over the regions, Russia recognised them both as independent states, but most of the international community and Georgia have continued to see them as belonging to Russia's southern neighbour.
The court is carrying out a preliminary investigation into individuals on both sides who are suspected of committing war crimes during the brief 2008 war.