Crimean gold artefacts must go back to Ukraine, Dutch court rules

Kiev argued for return of treasures, which were on loan to Amsterdam museum when Russia seized the peninsula in 2014.

A priceless collection of gold artefacts from Crimea that was on loan to a Dutch museum when Russia seized the peninsula must be returned to Ukraine and not Crimea, a Dutch court has ruled, in a judgment likely to anger Moscow.

Kiev and the four museums have been wrangling over the fate of the archaeological treasures – including gems, helmets and scabbards – which were on loan to the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014.

A spokesman for Ukraine’s foreign minister, Pavlo Klimkin, tweeted: “This is an important victory for Ukraine.”

There was no immediate reaction from Russian officials, but the ruling is likely to anger Moscow, which insists it has full sovereignty over the Black Sea peninsula, which houses a Russian naval base.

The annexation, following the toppling of a pro-Russia president in Kiev, triggered the biggest confrontation between the Kremlin and the west since the end of the cold war in 1991. It brought western sanctions against Moscow and complications in the international arena for Crimean organisations from sports teams and cultural institutions to commerce.

Some Crimeans greeted the decision with dismay. “I don’t think it was a good idea to bring this before court,” said Valentina Mordvinsteva, a historian and the exhibition’s Crimea-based curator.

“After this ruling, what should Crimean people think about Ukraine?” she said.

The exhibition, its centrepiece a 4th-century BC Scythian helmet, highlighted the rich history of the peninsula, a staging post on the silk road from China to Europe, where Russian, Greek and Turkish cultures have met since ancient times.

The court ruled that only sovereign countries could claim objects as cultural heritage. Since only Ukraine, not Crimea, was sovereign, it was for a Ukrainian court to adjudicate the competing ownership claims.

“Ownership questions have to be settled when they have been returned to the state and in accordance with the law of the state in question,” said the judge Mieke Dudok van Heel. “The Allard Pierson Museum must return the treasures to Kiev.”

A spokesman for the University of Amsterdam, owner of the Allard Pierson Museum, said the museum would continue to hold the objects until all appeals were settled.

The Crimean museums have three months to appeal against the ruling. Ukraine was ordered to pay a portion of the costs of storing the collection, estimated at €300,000 (£250,000).

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