The curators of an Amsterdam museum that has hosted an exhibition of Crimean gold since February probably never anticipated the tumultuous events that have complicated the return of the borrowed artifacts.
Four of the five museums from which the collection was gathered were in Ukraine's Crimean territory at the time the display was assembled and delivered to the Allard Pierson Museum for the Feb. 7 opening of "Crimea: Gold and Secrets of the Black Sea."
But weeks later, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops into the strategic peninsula to secure Russian military facilities leased from Ukraine, and on March 18 he annexed the territory to Russia after a widely condemned independence referendum virtually held at gunpoint.
Now that the exhibition has run its course, the scabbards and helmets and precious-gem-studded adornments are due to be returned to their rightful owners -- once those can be legally determined.
"The Allard Pierson Museum has decided (for the time being) to not make a decision as to which of the parties the disputed objects should be handed over to,” reads a museum communique issued Wednesday.
The museum will abide by any ruling by a court or arbitrator, or an agreement between the Russian and Ukrainian governments, the statement says in announcing that the museum is keeping the disputed treasures in Amsterdam until then.
"The disputed objects will be safely stored until more becomes clear," the museum said, adding that no further comment on the matter would be made in light of expected litigation.
In an interview with Turkey's National Turk newspaper, Inge van der Fleece, an art historian and constitutional law expert at the University of Amsterdam, said the resolution of rival claims is likely to hang on whether the temporary loan of the items was agreed to with the Ukrainian government or with the individual museums from which they were borrowed.
Russia's claim to Crimea hasn't been recognized by any country, and its forcible change of Ukraine's border has brought international condemnation but no backing for a military reversal of Putin's fait accompli.
News agency RIA Novosti noted in its report on the museum's quandary that the Ukrainian government had demanded that the gold be returned to Kiev now that the peninsula is claimed by Russia.
"Crimea, however, dismissed these claims as groundless," the Russian state-controlled news agency said.
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