Artworks seized by Finland return to Russia

As complications stemming from the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian war continue to grow and manifest, with sanctions extending to all kinds of Russian industries and cultures in the country and around the world. Last week saw a mixed example of sanctions at work with a large shipment of artwork seized by Finland that was en route to Russia.

The numerous cases of works of art seized by Finland amount to approximately 42 million euros. It was one of three shipments and was seized by Finnish customs late last week in Vaalimaa, a border municipality, in a bid to comply with European Union sanctions currently imposed on Russia. The action was met with strong resentment from the Russian state, with Senator Sergey Tsekov calling the seizure a “theft”.

Despite the intent of the Finnish officials’ action, it was ruled between the EU and Finland that the seized paintings and statues should be returned to Russia, which had been loaned to international sites and included works by Picasso, Titan and Antonio. Canova. With the return of these works to the Russian museums they inhabit, this sets a precedent by strengthening the existing sanctions in place and has already been hinted at by the Finnish Foreign Ministry in a public statement.

Young Woman by Pablo Picasso, one of the paintings seized. Courtesy of

As the current European Union sanctions map shows, Russia has a multitude of varying and sometimes nebulous sanctions against them. Works of art and similar cultural objects seem to fall under the category of “luxury goods”, although the differences between those purchased and those lent are unclear. What is made clear is that the restrictions in place do not actually transfer ownership of the apprehended items, but only retain the asset until the sanctions are lifted.

While the works of art seized by Finland have returned home – which all art deserves, especially in times of danger – it is clear that the current policy in place against Russia and its cultural objects has flawed aspects. Undoubtedly, there will be continued confusion in this difficult time, and one can only hope that one day soon such situations will no longer be necessary.

James C. Tibbs