Staunton, December 22 – Berlin has renewed its calls to Moscow to return art that Soviet forces seized in Germany at the end of World War II and took back to the former USSR. But Mikhail Shvydkoy, Putin’s special representative for cultural cooperation, says there is no basis for even talking about that until the sanctions regime against Russia is lifted.
Moscow returned four objects earlier this year, but the German side is seeking the return of thousands of others, including Heinrich Schliemann’s Trojan horde and numerous gold items some more than a thousand years old (rg.ru/2018/12/20/shvydkoj-rasskazal-ob-obmene-kulturnymi-cennostiami-mezhdu-rf-i-germaniej.html).
In the past, the Russian government has been at least willing to talk about the status of these objects, but now, it has decided to roll this issue into its campaign against Western sanctions imposed on Moscow for its aggression in Ukraine and its illegal annexation of Crimea and stop talking altogether.
Shvydkoy noted this week that when he was culture minister (2000 to 2004), there was “a lively dialogue on this theme. We discussed everything which could be returned within the framework of existing laws and what things could be returned on an exchange basis.” But there cannot be any such talks now.
“For the renewal of this process,” the presidential representative said, “an atmosphere of trust, which unfortunately does not exist today is need. I speak about this with regret,” Shvydkoy added, “because relations with Germany in the area of science and culture are extremely fruitful.”
But “under current conditions, when Russia is under a European sanctions regime, when there is no real atmosphere of trust between countries, to conduct such a conversation is senseless.”