Against the background of the war in Ukraine, release for the UNESCO World Heritage Committee

  Alexander Kuznetsov, chairman of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, in 2017.

The news is enough to relieve Westerners, and should put an end to the paralysis of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee triggered by the war in Ukraine. The president of this body, the Russian Alexander Kuznetsov, has decided, according to our information, to leave this function. After months of uncertainty, the diplomat announced his withdrawal on Tuesday, November 22, in a letter sent to members of the World Heritage Committee. Officially, his decision would be motivated by his upcoming retirement, even if Mr. Kuznetsov would have had the possibility, in normal times, to remain in his post.

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This rather unexpected departure comes as the body responsible for inscribing the most remarkable architectural or natural sites on the planet on the World Heritage List is blocked by the tensions generated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization had to resolve, in April, to postpone indefinitely the annual meeting of this committee, initially scheduled for June in the Russian city of Kazan.

Diplomatically isolate Moscow

A month after the start of the invasion, the decision had been taken after long negotiations, which reflected, as in other United Nations bodies, the difficulty that Westerners have in diplomatically isolating Moscow, which is also subject to massive penalties. More than forty states, including France and the United Kingdom, had threatened to boycott the session, against the advice of capitals which have refused to take sides since the start of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. .

Ironically, it is one of these countries, Saudi Arabia, which should now be in a position to fill the presidency of the Committee. The members of the latter will then be able to meet in extraordinary session in order to organize, for lack of having been able to meet in Kazan, their next annual meeting, in 2023, either on Saudi territory or at the headquarters of Unesco, in Paris or in a third country.

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One of the priorities of the Committee will be to decide to place the city center of Odessa on the list of World Heritage in Danger. Since the outbreak of hostilities, the port city, located near the front line, has been the subject of regular bombardments. His application was submitted in October. Seven other Ukrainian sites are already listed as World Heritage Sites, including Saint Sophia Cathedral in kyiv. None of them, we rejoice at Unesco, would have been damaged by the conflict, unlike many museums or monuments targeted by Russian forces.

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