OPEN LETTER TO THE EUROPEAN COUNCIL

OPEN LETTER TO THE EUROPEAN COUNCIL

Amsterdam, 9 July 2024

Subject: Urgent request to help preserve the piece of world’s cultural heritage, frigate “Shtandart”

Dear President of the European Council Mr. Charles Michel,
Dear Council of the European Union,

I am writing to you with regards to the recent package of amendments (Council regulation (EU) 2024/1745 of 24 June 2024) to the restrictive measures against Russian aggression in Ukraine (Council regulation (EU) 833/2014 of 31 July 2014).

I recognise the importance of these measures and vigorously support them as a way to put pressure on Putin’s regime and to help stop military invasion into Ukraine. Amongst other amendments of this document, however, I was brokenhearted to find the one specifying that the restrictions shall be applied to all maritime vessels “including replicas of historical ships”.

Replicas of historical ships to have sailed European waters under the Russian flag are far from numerous. Even though tall ships like “Kruzenshtern”, “Sedov” and “Mir” were frequenting European harbors in the past, they have not been seen in the EU over the last years, even prior to 24 February 2022 when the prohibition to enter European ports commenced. As a result, this amendment practically turns out to be directed against one specific ship – the frigate “Shtandart”.

I happen to be familiar with this ship and her crew, and I want to use this occasion to bring your attention to several facts that you might not be aware of, in a hope to prevent what I believe to be a tragic misunderstanding.

Unlike the other aforementioned tall ships flying the Russian flag, all of which are in this or that way affiliated with Russian governmental institutions, “Shtandart” is privately-built and privately-owned. She was created by a non-commercial organization dedicated to youth development. Since the beginning, the goal of this project has been education and culture. The ship was built and managed by Vladimir Martus, who has repeatedly defined himself as an opponent to Putin’s regime. Vladimir Martus showed his respect and willingness to collaborate with European governments on multiple occasions, by doing the best of what could possibly be done in the current situation – by not flying the Russian flag upon request of the local authorities, and eventually by changing the ship’s registration and flag to another country and transitioning management to a European company.

The current crew of “Shtandart” is a true mixture of nationalities: not only Russians, but as well Ukrainians, French, Belgians, Dutch and many others largely contribute to this project on a daily basis. I personally know at least one Ukrainian refugee who found shelter and home aboard this ship. The crew showcases how people of different nationalities and backgrounds, sometimes not even speaking the same language, can peacefully coexist and work on a common project, despite and through the terrible events that unravel around them.

In a way, “Shtandart” herself is a refugee. 15 years ago this ship had to flee Saint-Petersburg due to an incident with the local government that tried to take the ship away by force. She has never been back to Russia, since. It was only due to a huge volunteer community that “Shtandart” survived the COVID-19 crisis, and lately she has to rely on goodwill of local authorities to be allowed into any harbors, simply to shelter, refuel, and feed her crew.

This is the ship that you are specifically banning from the European ports. What would be the consequences? Deprived of access to European harbors, “Shtandart” will probably have little to no other choice but to go back to Russia. Will she be forcefully taken by some of Putin’s minions and converted into a private yacht? Unfortunately, I see this as a probable outcome. And I truly hope that this is absolutely not what you are trying to achieve, because such kind of “sanctions” would only motivate the Russian government to continue their unlawful actions.

I am myself a Dutch citizen of Ukrainian origin, and I wish with all my heart that the tragic events unraveling in my country of birth come to an end and that all the guilty in crimes against Ukrainian people are punished. Yet in the pain and anger we need not forget that we are fighting regimes, not cultures. Unlawful actions of the Russian government raise rightful resentment. I regret that some of my fellow countrymen find no better target to direct their resentment at than a historical museum. This could be explained by the huge trauma and pain that many Ukrainians, including me, are going through. But you, the government of the European Union, have to keep your sight clear and be able to tell the actual criminals from their victims.

“Shtandart” is not just a replica of some 1703 ship. She was built following Dutch and British nautic tradition. She is a remarkable cultural heritage, a result of years of hard labor carried out by hundreds of volunteers. Designed mainly as a volunteer project, and not a commercial one, she is already struggling to survive. It would be a huge loss to Europe and the world if she fails in this struggle.

Aside from her indisputable cultural value, “Shtandart” is a bright reminder that Russian people have an alternative to Putin’s false values. This ship showcases that friendship and collaboration with European nations, including Ukrainians, is a real and meaningful way for Russians. She reminds of and showcases what Putin’s regime is trying to take away from the Russian people – the choice.

The goal of the sanctions is to put political and economical pressure on the Russian government and on the individuals responsible for the numerous military crimes happening in Ukraine, as well as the crimes against human rights happening in Russia. The list of sanctions includes targeted restrictive measures against powerful Russian individuals and effective economical measures such as restrictions on oil trade. And side by side with those thoughtful measures and notorious personalities – restrictions against a replica, a museum?.. What good can we realistically achieve by this?

I hereby ask you to reconsider this amendment, and to help preserve this precious piece of the world’s cultural heritage. I ask you to show wisdom and foresight in telling Europe’s friends from Europe’s enemies. Should you not be able to support “Shtandart” as much as she deserves to be supported, then at least please do not push her to cease existing. Please do what is only meaningful, make “Shtandart” an exemption from sanctions and grant her free access to European ports.

I am happy to provide my assistance and further collaborate with you on this matter.

Yours Sincerely,9 July 2024
Anna Mykolaivna IlinaAmsterdam, Netherlands

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