Valuable documents returned to Russia

The U.S. embassy in Moscow is holding a ceremony to mark the return to Russia of official documents stolen from the Soviet Union. Some of the letters have been signed by Stalin, Tsar Alexander the First and Nicholas the Second.

The letters were confiscated from two U.S. firms who specialise in selling antique documents.

“Among these documents were government orders, notes and private letters. Fortunately our government managed to get hold of these documents before they were lost forever,” stressed William Joseph Burns, U.S. Ambassador to Russia

They were stolen during the mid 1990s when many historic artifacts and archive materials were smuggled out of Russia.

A search at a flat in St. Petersburg uncovered a group of organised criminals, led by Vladimir Fainberg, who sold about 400,000 Russian and Soviet documents abroad.

The majority of them have been located but some are still missing, as is Fainberg.

“One of the letters caught my attention because it was signed by Joseph Stalin. I managed to trace it back to two American companies, one in Kentucky and another in Las Vegas. I started an investigation into how it had come into their hands and I found out they had more than 80 archive documents stolen from Russia,” said James McAndrew, U.S. Internal Security Agent.

It's hard to estimate the value of each letter. How can you put a price on Lenin's signature?

“They are mainly valuable for the signatures on them. Some of the most important figures in Soviet and Russian history have signed them. One document isn't going to sell for less then $US 400 – $US 500,” noted Vladimir Kozlov, Director of Russian Archives.

These pieces of paper are of huge historical and cultural importance. Russian and American authorities have pledged their continued co-operation and that even material owned by private collectors will sooner or later be returned to Russia.