Moscow, 18 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - Russian President Boris Yeltsin today vetoed a bill seeking to make art taken from Germany during World War II the property of the Russian government.
Yeltsin said in a letter to Yegor Stroyev, speaker of the Federation Council which had passed the bill, that it was "unilateral" and "without regard for commonly accepted rules of international law."
He also said the bill "weakens Russia's position in ongoing negotiations" with France, Germany, Liechtenstein, Poland, Hungary, the Netherlands and other countries. He added that the bill fails to differentiate between former allies, foes and neutral states.
The bill concerns some 200,000 works of art. It had declared all cultural artifacts now on Russian territory, or transferred to the Soviet Union as compensation for its war losses, to be "federal property," regardless of whose hands the artifacts are now in. It allowed for the return of family keepsakes, such as letters and medals.
The bill also permited Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to apply for the return of artworks which Nazi Germany seized from them but which the Soviet Union took and are now in Russia.
The upper house of the Russian parliament passed the bill earlier this month despite protests from Germany. The lower house, the State Duma, which approved the bill last month, must now muster a two-thirds majority to override Yeltsin's veto.