If the court launches a full probe, it would be the first outside the African continent, where governments have often accused the ICC of targeting only their leaders.
“The prosecutor of the ICC, Fatou Bensouda, has decided to open a preliminary investigation into the situation in the Ukraine to establish whether… the criteria for opening a (full) investigation are met,” the court said in a statement.
“The prosecutor shall consider issues of jurisdiction, admissibility and the interests of justice,” before deciding on a full investigation, the ICC added, saying the initial investigation was opened “as a matter of policy”.
“If there was a reasonable basis for an investigation, it is then up to her (Bensouda) to ask the court’s judges for authorisation,” ICC spokesman Fadi El Abdallah told AFP.
Ukraine earlier this month accepted ICC jurisdiction to probe alleged crimes committed between November 21, when pro-EU demonstrations erupted in Kiev, and February 22, when Yanukovych was ousted.
Kiev has not signed up to the ICC’s founding Rome Statute, but can ask for a probe to be opened.
Its parliament called in February for the ICC to prosecute Yanukovych for the “mass murder” of protesters in Kiev calling on him to stand down, a crisis that has sparked the current Ukraine-Russia standoff.
So far Bensouda has opened initial probes in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the Comoros, Colombia, Guinea, Honduras, the Korean peninsula and Nigeria.
Based in The Hague, the ICC opened its doors in 2003 and is the world’s first independent court set up to try the worst crimes including genocide and war crimes.