Artworks worth $46 million were seized by Finnish customs upon their return to Russia, according to a statement from the government agency on Wednesday.
“It is important that enforcement of sanctions works effectively,” Sami Rakshit, director of Finland’s customs enforcement department, said in a statement.
“Sanctions enforcement is part of our normal operations and we always direct our controls based on risk. The shipments that have now been criminally investigated have been detected as part of our regular enforcement work .”
The confiscations were justified on the basis that the artwork qualifies as “luxury goods”, which are included in EU sanctions against Russia. According to Finnish customs, the Finnish Foreign Ministry has confirmed that the EU sanctions list contains a paragraph on works of art.
Russian Senator Sergey Tsekov, a member of the Federation Council’s Foreign Affairs Committee, told Russian state media RIA Novosti on Wednesday that Finland’s “extrajudicial seizure” of the artwork amounted to “theft “.
“It seems that all of Europe, not just the EU and NATO, has gone mad,” Tsekov said. “From now on, works of art belonging to Russia are no longer allowed to return to their homeland, to Russian museums.”
RIA Novosti, citing Russia’s Culture Ministry, said the work was part of two exhibition projects in Italy, one at a gallery in Milan’s Scala Square and the other at the Museum of Modern Art. and contemporary of Udine. They were loaned by the State Tretyakov Gallery and the National Museum of Oriental Art of Russia.
Other pieces from the Pushkin National Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow were returning from Japan, where they were on display at the Chiba City Museum in Tokyo.
Finnish customs said in the statement that “the works of art are stored taking into account their value, characteristics and safety”, and that an investigation is ongoing.
While the sanctions were largely designed to target the Russian economy, the country’s cultural influence is also reduced.
Since Moscow invaded Ukraine on February 24, the art world has canceled exhibitions and pressured Russian art institutions.