Precious archaeological treasures loaned to an Amsterdam museum are at the center of a legal dispute between Ukraine and Russia. Judges ruled they should be returned to Ukraine - but stay hidden for the next few months.
Priceless historical art treasures of the Black Sea that were loaned to an Amsterdam museum shortly before Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula should be returned to Ukraine, a Dutch court ruled on Wednesday.
The dispute over the ownership of the archaeological artifacts was launched by four Crimean museums with the support of Moscow in November 2014.
The ruling has outraged the Kremlin and the formal plaintiffs.
"The museum objects should be returned to Crimea, where they were found and where for decades they have been preserved and studied by archeologists and scientists," according to a statement from the Russian Culture Ministry. "The court ignored the principle that archeological finds should be preserved in inextricable connection with the history and culture of the place where they originated."
Tatyana Umrikhina, head of the Eastern Crimean Historical and Cultural Museum Preserve, which was one of the museums to file the lawsuit, vowed to challenge the ruling.
"We have three months to prepare an appeal and, of course, we will use this opportunity," she said in comments reported by the Interfax news agency.
But Elena Gagarina, director of the Kremlin Museum in Moscow, said she understood the court's ruling.
"In this case, when these objects were taken from the territory of Ukraine and belonged to Ukraine as a state, this decision seems perfectly reasonable to me," she told Interfax.
The precious objects, including a 2,400-year-old Scythian helmet, Han Dynasty lacquer boxes from the Silk Road, delicate brooches, and gold jewels, were loaned to the Allard Pierson Museum, a small archaeology center in Amsterdam for an exhibition in 2014, called "The Crimea: Gold and Secrets from the Black Sea."
The exhibits have been stuck in the Netherlands since then. When Russia annexed Crimea a month later in March 2014, the ownership of the priceless artifacts became unclear, turning the Black Sea treasures into political hostages.
Russia's annexation of the Black Sea territory has not been recognized by the vast majority of the international community.
Ruling can be appealed
The Dutch judges ruled that "the objects must go to Ukraine, the artifacts' country of origin and cultural heritage," as reported by Dutch news agency ANP.
However, the judges avoided deciding on the rightful owner of the collection: "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," judge Mieke Dudok van Heel said.
The Netherlands will continue to hold the trove in a secret location for the next three months, in anticipation of a likely appeal by Russia and the four Crimean museums.
Crimean Culture Minister Arina Novoselskaya reacted to the decision by declaring, "Crimea will appeal to defend its claim to get the collection back to Crimea," Russian news agency Tass reported.
Ukraine has been ordered to pay the storage and security costs, estimated at 300,000 euros (about $319,000). Experts say the legal case could extend over five years.
eg/kbm (Reuters, dpa, AFP)