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Incoming Russian minister dismisses German restitution claims

Alexander Sokolov does not seem interested in returning looted art

Russia’s new Culture and Information Minister, Alexander Sokolov, met with Germany’s Federal Commissioner for Cultural Affairs and the Media, Christina Weiss, in Moscow at the end of March to discuss a number of cultural issues between Russia and Germany.

No progress was reported on the divisive subject of World War II trophy art restitution, which has overshadowed the otherwise warm relationship between Russia and Germany in the post-Soviet era.

Mr Sokolov seems to have little sympathy with German claims for the restitution of works looted by the retreating Red Army in 1945.

Mr Sokolov’s predecessor, Mikhail Shvydkoi had been strongly in favour of returning art to Germany, a position which many believe cost him his job.

Speaking at a press conference in Moscow, Mr Sokolov said, “the Germans try to make this out to be an issue that is dealt with piece by piece.” “They speak separately of the Rubens painting, separately of the Baldin Collection, and so on. It is easy to imagine that if this continues we will have an endless number of cases.”

Rubens’s “Tarquin and Lucretia”, once at the Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam, is now owned by Russian businessman Vladimir Logvinenko. It is believed to have been looted by a Soviet soldier at the end of the war. Mr Logvinenko argues that he bought the picture in good faith and his claim was recently upheld by the General Prosecutor’s Office.

Mr Sokolov added that the issue of restitution will now be under the jurisdiction of three branches of the Russian government: the Culture Ministry, the Justice Ministry, and the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Ms Weiss remarked that “Russia’s Law on Transferred Cultural Valuables does not conform to standards of international law. But despite this, we will continue discussions with great delicacy”.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Incoming Russian minister dismisses German claims'