Three shipments of art bound for Russia have been seized by Finnish Customs, according to a statement from the government agency. The art seized was worth a collective $46 million.
“It is important that the enforcement of sanctions works effectively,” Sami Rakshit, the director of Finnish Customs’ enforcement department, said in a statement. He added, “The enforcement of sanctions is part of our normal operations and we always direct our controls based on risks.”
The paintings, sculptures, and antiquities were confiscated over the weekend at the Vaalimaa border crossing, due to European Union sanctions. According to Customs enforcement director Hannu Sinkkonen, the artworks were returning to Russia from museums in Italy and Japan, where they were on loan.
Finnish Customs said in a statement that “the works of art are being stored with overall consideration for their value, characteristics and safety” in a warehouse for the time being. The agency is currently conducting a criminal investigation in tandem with Finland’s foreign ministry. Ten people are suspected of breaching sanctions by transporting the art.
Russian senator Sergey Tsekov told the state-run Russian outlet RIA Novosti on Wednesday that Finland’s seizure of the artworks was “theft.”
“It seems that the whole of Europe, not only the EU and NATO, has gone crazy,” Tsekov said, according to CNN. “Now works of art belonging to Russia are not allowed to return to their homeland, to Russian museums.”
According to Reuters, most of the artwork was on loan from Russia’s State Tretyakov Gallery and State Museum of Oriental Art to two Italian galleries, Milan’s Scala Square and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Udine. The other pieces were returning to Moscow’s Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts from Japan, where they were on display at Chiba City Museum in Tokyo.
Since Russian invaded Ukraine in late February, Moscow has been hit with extensive sanctions from the United States and the European Union. The Finnish Foreign Ministry said that the list of E.U. sanctions include works of art, which are considered luxury items.
The war on Ukraine has frayed relations between Russia and the international art community, complicating loan agreements. In March, the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, requested the immediate return of several high-profile loans to museums in Milan and Rome. The Gallerie d’Italia in Milan agreed to return 23 artworks loaned by four Russian museums as part of an exhibition called “Grand tour: The dream of Italy from Venice to Pompeii.”