BONN — Russia will damage ties with Germany if it moves ahead with plans to nationalize works of art and other valuables seized from Nazi Germany at the end of World War II, Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said.
Kinkel was quoted in Sunday's edition of the Welt am Sonntag weekly newspaper as saying that a draft law approved Friday by Russia's lower house of parliament restricting any future return of the treasures would violate international law and bilateral treaties.
"Unilateral action as envisioned by the Duma would block the way for resolving mutually this difficult and sensitive matter and would not serve good German-Russian relations," he was quoted as saying.
The victorious Red Army scooped up hundreds of thousands of priceless paintings, sculptures, manuscripts and other objects from Germany and other countries after the war.
According to Russian historian Pavel Knyshevsky, 24 railway carloads of artworks left Germany for the Soviet Union in 1945 alone. As early as 1943, Russian dictator Josef Stalin had created special units to loot occupied territories.
Russian museums have displayed many works taken from Germany, including paintings by Francisco Goya, El Greco, Auguste Renoir, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and Edgar Degas.
Moscow and Germany signed a treaty in 1990 providing for the mutual return of booty seized illegally during the war. But despite German pressure, Russia has yet to give back the major treasures.
The bill passed last week stipulates that art "transferred" to the Soviet Union becomes the property of Russia as compensation for losses suffered during the war but that art brought in "illegally" may be returned to original owners.
The distinction is not explained.