Kiev has welcomed a “long-awaited victory” in the hidden conflict and pledged to return Russian-occupied Crimea.
A Dutch appellate court has ruled that the collection of ancient Crimean gold artifacts claimed by Ukraine and museums in the Russian-affiliated territory should be returned to the Ukrainian state.
Pieces weighing more than 1 kg (35 oz) each, including a sturdy gold Scythian helmet and gold neck ornaments, were on display in the Netherlands when Russia annexed the peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.
Reading a summary of Tuesday’s decision, presiding judge Pauline Hoffmeizer-Ruten said that Ukraine’s national cultural interests are more important than the Crimean museum.
“The Allard Pearson Museum is no longer obliged to return the pieces to the Crimean Museum,” he said. “The rights of the Ukrainian state, based on the law of the museum … get priority.”
Kiev welcomed the ruling, which could be appealed to the Dutch Supreme Court. President Volodymyr Zelensky called it a “fair decision” and welcomed the “long-awaited victory” for the return of funds.
“We always get our back. After ‘Scythian Gold’, we will return Crimea, “Zelensky tweeted.
The long awaited victory in the Amsterdam Court of Appeal. Returns to “Scythian Gold”. Grateful to the court for a fair decision, and @minjust_gov_ua, @MFA_Ukraine And MKIPUkraine For results we always get what we have back. After “Scythian gold”, we will return to Crimea.
– Vladimir Zelensky (eZelenskyyUa) October 26, 2021
There was no immediate reaction from Moscow.
Rob Meizer, a lawyer appealing for the museum, said he was disappointed with the verdict but it was up to his clients to decide whether to file a further appeal.
“These hidden treasures … have been dug up in Crimea, they have been taken care of, they have been recovered, they have always been on display in Crimea,” he said.
Russia’s acquisition of Crimea led to Western sanctions. Western nations and most countries in the world recognize the Black Sea Peninsula as Ukrainian, and Kiev wants to return the territory.
Martin Sanders, a lawyer representing Ukraine in the Treasury dispute, said it would be difficult for Russia to try to claim ownership of the items in a Dutch court because the United Nations and the European Union did not recognize its sovereignty over Crimea.
In 2016, a lower court ordered the Allard Pearson Museum to return archaeological treasures, including gems, helmets and scabbards, to the Ukrainian government instead of lending them four museums.
Russia appealed that decision, and the appellate court later partially reversed the lower court’s decision in 2019.
It found that it had erroneously ruled that only the government could claim objects as cultural heritage and said that “more information” was needed from both sides to make a final decision on the case.
The University of Amsterdam, which owns the Allard Pearson Museum, said the museum will continue to store the objects until all appeals have been settled.