Germany, Russia clash over 'looted art'

Jun 21, 2013, 2:25 PM EDT
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, hands German Chancellor Angela Merkel an old lithograph dedicated to the signing of a Russian-German trade agreement in 1894 after a news conference at the economic forum in St.Petersburg, Russia, Friday, June 21, 2013.
(AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — The glittering glories of Russia's Hermitage Museum were shadowed Friday by tensions between Russia and Germany over a new exhibit including objects looted by Red Army soldiers after they overran the Nazis.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, visiting the opening of the exhibition with Russian President Vladimir Putin, noted pointedly that some of the items on display had been brought from Germany and "it gives us great happiness that we can see all of them today.

"We will continue dialogue on all questions regarding valuables brought from Germany," she added, according to the news agency Interfax.

The remarks may have been milder than she'd originally intended. Merkel had planned to use her speech at the opening of the exhibition to call for the return of the art in accordance with international law, said German government spokesman Georg Streiter.

Putin, at an earlier news conference with Merkel, hedged on the question of whether Russia would return art taken by the Soviets.

"It's a very sensitive question for the civil society of both sides, I think," he said. "Therefore, if we want to have some kind of movement forward, we shouldn't inflate the problem but search for some path to resolution."

"Now is hardly the time to open the discussion," he said, because there are Russians who are resentful of damages inflicted during the war on Soviet art collections.

The Hermitage exhibition, called "The Bronze Age: A Europe Without Frontiers," includes a renowned collection of prehistoric gold objects found in Brandenburg, Germany, in 1913.