The renowned Austrian architecture firm Coop Himmelb (l) au is planning to build an opera house complex in Sevastopol, the main port of Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula, which was illegally annexed by the Kremlin in March 2014. This law made Russia subject to severe sanctions from the EU and the US, which continue to exist to this day.
The head of Coop Himmelb (l) au, Wolf D. Prix, designed the headquarters of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt. The Sevastopol project was reportedly commissioned by a foundation established by Vladimir Putin who are believed to want a cultural ensemble to serve as a memorial to himself and his conquest of the Crimea nearly seven years ago. According to reports, the project will include a state-of-the-art museum and art gallery.
The design renders of the proposed building can not be found on the company’s homepage, only in a complex in Kemerovo, a city in Siberia. For several months the company denied that plans for the Crimea were in the works. Prix later complained about a leak to the Russian media, which then released the first photos of the Sevastopol project in 2019.
Prix should have understood that Putin would use the project as a propaganda stunt to prove that he can ignore the sanctions imposed by the West and leave his mark on the peninsula by hiring an internationally renowned European architecture firm to fulfill his wishes fulfill.
When Prix was asked about the sanctions, he openly disregarded their meaning when he recently spoke to the Austrian press agency: “The word culture does not appear in these sanctions and therefore cultural buildings are excluded.”
When asked by New Europe, Peter Stano, the European Commission’s main spokesman for its foreign policy team, replied: “Any activity by an EU operator in Crimea and Sevastopol must comply with the prohibitions of both EU regulations (sanctions).” In addition, the European Council envisages an asset freeze and a ban on the provision of economic resources to certain persons who actively support or implement measures or measures that undermine or threaten the territorial integrity and independence of Ukraine. “
According to the regulations, the construction of a building in Sevastopol is subject to different criteria than one in Moscow or St. Petersburg. Former Austrian ambassador to Russia Emil Brix said the construction of a cultural center in Crimea would serve “in recognition of its annexation by Russia”.
“The construction sector is indeed affected by the EU sanctions,” said the Ukrainian ambassador to Austria, Alexander Scherba, when asked by New Europe. The public prosecutor’s office in Kiev appointed for Crimea would blacklist Coop Himmelb (l) au.
The project puts the Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in a difficult position with regard to the foreign policy of his government, which was largely friendly towards Moscow. “We can no longer be a trustworthy bridge builder between Moscow and Kiev,” says Brix as construction progresses.
For his part, Prix was frivolous in his comments on the matter, stating that he cared little about Ukraine’s reaction. “I have no plans to spend my vacation in Chernobyl.” Kiev’s relations with the US could become problematic for the Prix. The US Congress would likely file a motion to ban Prix and his colleagues at Coop Himmelb (l) au Architects from public contracts in the US, which could prove fatal for the company given its North American office is in Los Angeles.
Eva Blimlinger, a Green MP and spokeswoman for cultural affairs in the Austrian National Council, recently stated: “Personally, I do not think it is fundamentally permissible for an architecture firm – or another trading company – to build dictatorships or to trade with them in countries supported by the EU be sanctioned. “
The former foreign minister of the Czech Republic, Karel Schwarzenberg, who has repeatedly criticized Putin, told New Europe: “An unfortunate fact is that most great artists are also great egoists. As a result, whenever a politician or the most terrible dictator offers them the opportunity to carry out their work, they immediately agree. This is regrettable, but it is always confirmed by previous experience. “
Prix, who is not known for public modesty statements, has already equated himself with Michelangelo and others and told the German daily newspaper Southgerman newspaper, “If you weren’t allowed to build for questionable systems, you might as well demolish most of the works by Michelangelo, Bramante or Borromini. After all, the church as a client is anything but democratically legitimate. “