Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, takes part in expedition to explore sunken shipwreck off the coast of Crimea
Vladimir Putin dived to the bottom of the Black Sea to explore an ancient shipwreck off Crimea on Tuesday, in a stunt aimed at cementing his image as adventurer and control of the annexed territory.
The Russian president’s 83-metre dive in a mini-submarine was the latest in a long line of adventurous stunts that have previously seen him tranquillise wild tigers and fly with endangered cranes.
Tuesday’s mission was part of a Russian Geographic Society expedition researching Crimea’s ancient trade route.
Such research is important “in order to understand the development of ancient Rus’s relations with its neighbours, as well as the development of Russian statehood,” Mr Putin told reporters.
He said the 9th or 10th century Byzantine trading ship, which was discovered near Balaklava earlier this year, appeared to be well preserved along with dozens of artefacts including a large quantity of amphorae.
The Russian president’s latest underwater exploits were part of his third visit to the Crimean peninsula since he annexed it in March 2014.
He was accompanied on his visit by Sergei Shoigu, his defence minister and the head of the Russian Geographic Society, prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, and Sergey Ivanov, his chief of staff.
Petro Poroshenko, the Ukrainian president, earlier said Mr Putin should have arranged his visit to the disputed peninsular with Kiev.
“I won’t comment on that because the future of Crimea was decided by people who live here. They voted for unification with Russia. Full stop,” Mr Putin said when asked about Mr Poroshenko’s comments.
Mr Putin has a history of adventurous stunts, and has made previous mini-submarine dives in the Gulf of Finland and Lake Baikal.
In 2011 he went scuba diving with marine archaeologists at the site of an ancient Greek city on Taman, the Black Sea peninsula opposite Crimea.
On that occasion he emerged bearing amphorae that it was later claimed had been planted in advance for him to “find.”
This time Mr Putin did not remove any items from the wreck, and said that professionals had already discovered and explored the site before he visited.
Crimea’s ancient heritage has been at the centre of disputes since the annexation, with former allies clashing over the fate of heritage sites.
Last month archeologists, historians, and museum directors across Russia protested the governor of Sevastopol’s appointment of an Orthodox cleric to run Chersonesus, an ancient Greek city.
Chersonesus was the site of the baptism of Vladimir the Great, the medieval prince credited with converting ancient Rus to Christianity, and the historians feared the moved heralded plans to demolish parts of the site to build a pilgrimage centre.
Local media reported that the Kremlin had to broker a compromise after Alexei Chaliy, the local businessman who signed the unification treaty on behalf of Sevastopol, backed the protesting archaeologists.