In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the United Kingdom, United States and European Union (EU) imposed sanctions on some of Russia’s most prominent people and companies. The move aims to freeze their foreign assets, which could potentially extend to some of the world’s most valuable art collections, although those held in trust are out of reach.
So who’s on the list?
Russian President Vladimir PutinAssets of EU, US and UK frozen due to its recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk independence and large-scale invasion of Ukraine, legal text says of the EU published on Friday. Putin’s personal art collection was boosted in 2015 by an elderly woman named Nina Moleva’s donation of more than 1,000 works, worth an estimated $400 million to $2 billion. The collection was said at the time to include paintings by Velazquez, Rubens and Michelangelo, although this has never been verified and where these works are currently kept is unclear.
Boris Rotenberga childhood friend of Putin and co-owner of Russia’s largest gas pipeline construction company, SMP Group, is among those who will face British sanctions, although such moves have not deterred him by the pass.
Rotenberg and his brother Arkady faced sanctions from the US government in 2014, but a Panama Papers report revealed that they continued to buy and sell multimillion-dollar works of art, including the $7.5 million private sale of René Magritte. Chest, and a $6.8 million spending spree at a single Impressionist and Modern art sale at Sotheby’s. The auction house later said it would no longer deal with the people and companies named in the report.
A number of Russian banks are also facing sanctions. The United States and the United Kingdom have frozen assets at VTB Bank, the second largest bank in Russia. The extent of the bank’s art collection and its location are unclear, but the company invests heavily in culture, including the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts and the Hermitage Museum.
Alfa Bank has also been the target of the EU and the US, where debt and capital restrictions have been imposed. Although not personally named, Pyotr Aven is currently chairman of the bank’s board. He is one of the most prolific collectors of Russian art, including paintings by Igor Larionov, Natalia Goncharova and Wassily Kandinsky. Parts of his collection are housed in Moscow and the UK, where the garden of his Surrey home is populated with sculptures by Lynn Chadwick, Henry Moore and Louise Bourgeois, among others. He plans to open a private museum in Riga, Latvia, where part of his collection could also be kept.
Meanwhile, a number of other oligarchs and companies not on the list could also face sanctions. Labor MP Chris Bryant called for Roman Abramovich be stripped of its assets, including the Chelsea Football Club. The Russian billionaire also has an extensive art collection, which reportedly includes the work of Lucian Freud Dormant Benefits Supervisor (1995), which he bought for $33.6 million in June 2008, and the Francis Bacon film Triptych (1976), which was purchased the same week for $86.3 million.
The UK government privately named him a person of interest in 2019, but Abramovich vehemently disputed reports suggesting his alleged closeness to Putin. On Saturday, Abramovich released a statement saying he would hand over the “stewardship and care” of Chelsea to his charitable foundation, although its trustees have yet to approve the move.
energy giant Lukoil is another to consider as a potential target for EU sanctions, given the oil company’s importance to the Russian economy. The company is already subject to US sanctions. Vagit Alekperov, chairman and managing director of Lukoil, is an avid coin collector and opened a numismatic museum in Moscow in 2015.
While sanctions have proven hit and miss in the past, the expulsion of some Russian banks from Swift (the Corporation for Global Interbank Financial Telecommunications), the main secure messaging system used to make fast and secure cross-border payments, may -be more meaningful. Collectors may not be immediately affected by these measures, although any attempt to buy or sell art internationally is likely to be hampered. Offshore transactions will, however, be more difficult to control.