Finland rules on fate of seized Russian artwork
Works of art on loan from Russian museums will return home after being seized in Finland, as they are not covered by the EU sanctions, the Finnish Foreign Ministry said on Friday.
Following the diplomatic row over the seizure of artwork valued at around $46 million, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement explaining that the newly adopted EU sanctions against Russia allow member states to issue permits for the transit of “cultural objects that are part of official cultural cooperation with Russia.”
“The Ministry for Foreign Affairs will issue a permit for transports stopped in Finland last weekend that contain works of art owned by the Russian museums and returning to Russia from Italy and Japan,” the statement, published on the day the EU approved its fifth round of sanctions, reads.
On Friday morning, Russian Culture Minister Olga Lyubimova said the paintings and sculptures, some of which belong to the world-renowned Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow and Hermitage in Saint Petersburg, could be back in Russia this weekend.
“The European Commission clarified that the exhibits which participated in European exhibitions are not on the sanctions list,” Lyubimova wrote on Telegram.
The seizure of the Russian-owned works was confirmed by Finnish Customs on Wednesday, citing a “paragraph” of the EU sanctions imposed on Russia in response to its military attack on Ukraine. The next day, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned Finnish Ambassador Antti Helantera and expressed “strong protest” over the actions, which Moscow described as “legal chaos.”
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto explained that the sanctions are being imposed at such a pace that not all situations can be foreseen in advance. However, he clarified his own position, that the objects of cultural heritage belong to the museums that originally lent them out for exhibitions. The foreign minister expressed hope that the situation will be resolved quickly.
Following the launch of the Russian military offensive in Ukraine on February 24, Western countries introduced several rounds of harsh sanctions against Moscow. The restrictions, which Russia considers unlawful and unjustified, target various sectors of the Russian economy.
Moscow attacked the neighboring state in late February, following Ukraine’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements signed in 2014, and Russia’s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The German and French brokered Minsk Protocol was designed to give the breakaway regions special status within the Ukrainian state.
Russia has since demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two regions by force.