Russian convoy carrying ‘priceless’ artwork seized at Finnish border

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HERITAGE – The trucks were intercepted this weekend as they were repatriating collections to Russia on loan from several museums, including the Hermitage. Their value was insured at more than 42 million euros.

The tone is rising between Finland and Russia. A convoy carrying a collection of works of art valued by their insurance at 42 million euros was seized on 1er and April 2, Finnish authorities announced on Wednesday. Inspected at the Vaalimaa border post, between Helsinki and Saint Petersburg, three trucks contained, according to border guards, a consignment “invaluable” of paintings, sculptures and antiquities belonging to several Russian museums. A shipment of luxury goods, therefore, determined Finnish customs who seized the collection under European sanctions suspending the transfer to Russia of such objects.

“It is important that sanctions monitoring is effective“, declared Wednesday, during a press conference, the director of the Finnish customs control department, Sami Rakshit. The crates containing the works of art had not been hidden, customs officials said. Ten people are suspected by the authorities of having participated in the removal of the collection, while a preliminary investigation has been opened in Finland. Composed of several dozen objects returning from Japan and Italy, the set was placed under the supervision of the Directorate of Museums of Finland. “Professionals were consulted for the moving and storage of the goods. We are not going to open the boxes”said Hannu Sinkkonen, director of customs control.

Victims of sanctions

In March, Russia took the decision to repatriate its works of art loaned to Italy or France, in reaction to similar measures decided by several European countries. The Hermitage Museum, in particular, intended to reinstall in its galleries in Saint Petersburg its Titians, Picassos and other Canovas loaned to various Milanese and Roman institutions.

The list of works seized this weekend in the convoy has not been specified. The Russian authorities, on the other hand, confirmed that these were properties in particular kept by the Hermitage Museum, the Tretyakov Gallery and the Pushkin Museum – a handful of the most prestigious institutions in Russia.

The action of Finnish customs prompted a prompt reaction from the Russian authorities. “This situation is completely illegal.said the Russian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday, before summoning the Finnish ambassador to Moscow on Thursday to demand the return of the objects. We demand that the Finnish authorities guarantee the full return of our works of art as soon as possible.. The Finnish authorities clarified, for their part, that they had not confiscated the works seized. “This is a temporary situation. Russian museums still have these works of art.clarified Teemu Sepponen, the director of the export control unit within the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Finnish customs have tightened their border controls since the announcement by the European Union of sanctions against Russia, in the context of the war in Ukraine. Initially preserved, luxury goods were added on March 15 to the expanded list of products subject to export restrictions. A way to wear a “Blow to the Russian elite”preventing the richest from “enjoying their lavish lifestyle while bombs fall on innocent people in Ukraine”said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on March 11.

Relations between Finland and Russia, historically abysmal, have further cooled since the start of Russian operations in Ukraine on February 24. Finnish public support for possible NATO membership has reached a record high of 62%, according to a poll published in mid-March, reflecting the country’s growing concern for its security in the face of a Russian neighbor who has become unpredictable. . Traveling to Brussels, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto promised Thursday to clarify the government’s position in the coming weeks vis-à-vis a hypothetical entry into the Atlantic alliance. Such a rapprochement “would be a strategic error” and an “terrible tragedy for all Finns”commented on Wednesday a Russian senator quoted by the RIA Novosti news agency, close to the Kremlin.

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