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29th Feb 2024

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Russia looting Ukrainian art, draft EU sanctions say

  • Lviv in western Ukraine is trying to protect its art treasures from Russian bombs (Photo: Andrew Rettman)
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EU sanctions have begun to put on record Russia's looting of Ukrainian art, alongside its abduction and brainwashing of Ukrainian children.

A draft new EU blacklist names five individuals in Russian-occupied areas involved in art theft.

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"The cultural property of the Kherson Fine Arts Museum was removed from the museum in October and November 2022 and taken illegally to Simferopol, in illegally-annexed Crimea," said the European Commission document, seen by EUobserver.

And the stolen items are "currently" in "the Central Museum of Taurida in Simferopol," it noted.

One of the draft-blacklisted Russian stooges "voluntarily and deliberately helped the Russian security forces to empty the [Kherson Regional] Museum of its artefacts," it added.

Another one "discovered the location of artworks from the Kuindzhi Art Museum of Mariupol and gave those works willingly over to the Russian authorities, who facilitated their transfer to the Local History Museum of [Russian-occupied] Donetsk", the EU charged.

Russia's culture war against Ukraine also involves hard power.

Its invasion has damaged 254 Ukrainian cultural sites, including 109 religious ones, 22 museums, and 91 historic buildings, the Paris-based UNESCO said on 2 May.

"The Muscovite soldiers are bringing the Russkiy Mir," Andriy Saliuk, the director of the Lviv-based Heritage Protection Society, told EUobserver last year.

"They want to destroy our culture and replace it with their own. That's what they did in 1914, in 1939, in 1944 — they deliberately tried to destroy or steal our heritage," he added.

Russkiy Mir means "Russian World" and is a Kremlin propaganda theme that Russia is a unique civilisation with anti-Western values.

And the war involves a Russian campaign to indoctrinate kidnapped young Ukrainians, who number in the thousands, into that kind of mentality, the draft EU sanctions said.

They proposed blacklisting 22 Russian officials for crimes against Ukrainian children.

In one case, a 41-year old Chechen special police chief was put in charge of "forced re-education and military training of Ukrainian children" at "camps based in the Chechen Republic", the EU said.

"One particular indoctrination camp forces Ukrainian teenagers to follow a 'young fighter course', which teaches Ukrainian children to operate military equipment," it added.

In another case, kids from the Oleshki Boarding School for Disabled Children in Ukraine were taken via "illegal transportation ... to the illegally-annexed Crimea", the EU also said.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague issued an arrest warrant for Russian president Vladimir Putin in March over the child abductions.

And the latest EU sanctions will add to pressure for ICC members worldwide to arrest him if he ever flew there.

EU ambassadors will hold first talks on the new blacklist in Brussels on Wednesday (10 May).

The draft also names obscure Putin advisers, military commanders, nomenklatura relatives, and two small-time business tycoons.

One of these, Artyom Uss, recently made headlines in Italy, when he cut off his electronic-monitoring bracelet while under house arrest in Milan and fled to Russia, while being held pending potential extradition to the US on smuggling and money-laundering charges.

The new names will join a pyramid of more than 1,600 Russian individuals and entities already listed by the EU over the past year of war.

The upcoming 11th round of EU sanctions also tightens Russian access to high-tech weapons components, alongside previous economic embargoes.

But if Europe was hoping that soft power, such as ICC stigma, might rein in Putin's conduct, then Russia was also pushing back on this front, the EU draft sanctions showed.

'WarGonzo'

The EU Commission has proposed blacklisting 12 more propagandists to stop the Kremlin's tsunami of lies about the war.

These included Sergey Karaganov, a distinguished Russian academic still beloved by some in the West, for "claiming that the West is willing to destroy Russia and that the military actions are aimed to denazify Ukraine".

They also included TV executives and a "WarGonzo" blogger, who was "disseminating false information on Nato biological laboratories in Mariupol".

The EU is planning to add three more Kremlin-controlled TV channels to a Europe-wide broadcast ban.

The Oriental Review, RT Balkan, and Tsargrad broadcasters were "engaged in a systematic, international campaign of media manipulation and distortion of facts," the draft said.

Russian propaganda "has repeatedly and consistently targeted European political parties, especially during election periods, as well as civil society, asylum seekers, Russian ethnic minorities, gender minorities," the commission proposal warned.

And the Russian diaspora in Europe was also being weaponised, it indicated.

It proposed to blacklist the Moscow-based Foundation for Support and Protection of the Rights of Compatriots Living Abroad.

The foundation was a "unique structure of Russia's soft power", its own director said at a meeting in January 2022, the EU Commission noted.

"Unfounded accusations of Nazism, Russophobia, and massive persecution of Russian-speaking people are used by the foundation, in line with Kremlin policies, to create instability and division in many neighbouring countries of Russia," the draft sanctions said.

Opinion

Abducting Ukrainian children is a deliberate Kremlin strategy

This humanitarian tragedy unfolding just outside our EU borders is not just collateral damage from the war. We must acknowledge that it is part of an intentional strategy by the Kremlin aimed at those who are the most vulnerable: children.

Opinion

The overlooked 'crimes against children' ICC arrest warrant

An unprecedented component of this announcement has received less attention: the ICC also issued an arrest warrant for Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, Putin's commissioner for children's rights. Lvova-Belova is accused of deporting and unlawful transfer of Ukrainian children to Russia.

Opinion

For Ukraine's sake, pass the EU due diligence directive

The EU Commission's 2022 CSDDD proposal did not include provisions incorporating "conflict due diligence", they were added, after the Russian invasion, by the European Parliament and Council into the final directive text — for Ukraine's sake, vote for it.

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