ST. PETERSBURG, June 21 (RIA Novosti) – Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited an exhibition on Friday, contrary to earlier press reports that the planned had been canceled due to a controversy over artworks that the Soviet Union took from Germany during and after World War II.
The Bronze Age art exhibition took place at St. Petersburg's Hermitage Museum and includes works once owned by German museums.
Earlier reports in the German media had cited Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, as saying that Russia had canceled the visit amid concerns that Merkel intended to address the issue of “looted art” in her opening speech. However, Putin later said that the visit had come into question only because of scheduling. Putin and Merkel, who had both been attending an international economic forum in St. Petersburg, were supposed to open the exhibit, but ultimately did not, according to the Russian service of Deutsche Welle.
The issue of World War II trophy art, taken out of countries where it had been based during and after the war, has been a contentious one for decades. Russian officials, including its culture minister, have indicated recently that they do not plan on returning any major works of art to Germany.
Prior to the visit, Putin cautioned against revisiting the sensitive topic and reiterated the point at the Hermitage, urging Russia and Germany to be guided by the example of art scholars and other specialists in the two countries who work “beyond the political context of our time.”
Updated with clarifications and background about two hours after original posting.