Trolling Russia, Ukraine registers Moskva shipwreck as ‘underwater cultural heritage’ – POLITICO

Ukraine has listed the wreck of the Russian ship Moskva as “underwater cultural heritage” – in a move it says is “trolling” Moscow, rather than having a basis in international law.

“The missile cruiser ‘Moskva’ was the flagship of the Russian fleet and was given number 2064 in the Register of Underwater Cultural Heritage of Ukraine,” according to the country’s defense ministry wrote on his Facebook page. “The famous cruiser and the most sunken object on the bottom of the Black Sea can be admired.”

The Russian Navy’s Black Sea flagship Moskva — a missile cruiser with 510 crew members and a symbol of Russia’s military prowess — sank during a towing operation last week after a fire broke out on board. Ukraine claimed its troops were behind the attack and fired missiles that sank the ship – while Moscow has said Exploding ammunition inside the ship caused the fire.

But legally, Ukraine’s move is dubious at best.

The country’s defense ministry argued that “all traces of human activity on the bottom of the Black Sea within the framework of our state’s economic activity” are national property according to the “UNESCO convention”.

Eden Sarid, a lecturer at the University of Essex and an expert on heritage law, said that was wrong.

“They can register any place or underwater object in their territorial waters as a cultural heritage site,” he said. “It gets a little more complicated when … international law comes into effect.”

That international agreement The Underwater Heritage is the UNESCO-led Underwater Cultural Heritage Convention, created in 2001 and signed by 71 countries, including Ukraine. The aim is to preserve “all traces of human existence” – including shipwrecks and sunken cities – of “cultural, historical or archaeological character” found underwater and to provide a framework to combat illegal looting.

This designation means the site can only be accessed for research or recreational purposes and cannot be salvaged, Sarid said. But on several fronts, he argued, the law does not apply to the Moscow River.

First the convention conditions that every cultural heritage site must be “partially” submerged for “at least 100 years”. Second, the Moskva is a foreign ship flying a foreign flag, which prevents Ukraine from claiming her as its own national heritage. Finally, Russia is not a signatory to the UNESCO treaty, which means it does not have to adhere to any of its guidelines.

“You’re trolling Russia,” he said. “This is part of the history that Ukraine is making… about the way it resisted the Russian invasion – and this becomes part of history if it is your cultural heritage.”

Nonetheless, Russia was actually the first to use such a move against Ukraine.

In 2011, then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin left Dive into the Gulf of Taman, near Crimea, and retrieved two old ceramic vessels. Then, in 2014, after Russia annexed the peninsula, Moscow used alleged archaeological evidence of Proto-Russian kings around Crimea as part of its broader arguments to justify the annexation on historical grounds.

Although Russia is not a member of the convention presented UNESCO with a document citing “protection of cultural heritage in Crimea” as one of the reasons for their move.

UNESCO declined to comment on the legality of Ukraine’s move and its implications. Trolling Russia, Ukraine registers Moskva shipwreck as 'underwater cultural heritage' - POLITICO

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