London’s Tate museums have cut ties with two Russian oligarchs who were sanctioned by the United States and the European Union (EU) as punishment for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Viktor Vekselberg, a Ukrainian-born aluminum baron who made donations to the museums seven years ago, has been stripped of his title as an honorary member of the Tate Foundation. Petr Aven, a major shareholder in Russia’s largest private sector bank, will no longer serve on the Tate’s International Council or European Collection Circle. Both men are described in US and EU sanction lists as close associates of Vladimir Putin.
A spokesperson for the Tate told Hyperallergic that the United Kingdom has not imposed sanctions on any of the museum’s current individual or corporate supporters, adding that “any historic relationships with former donors associated with the Russian government have now ended.”
“We are keeping in close contact with the DCMS [Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport] and actively reviewing all our relationships to ensure there is complete alignment with the Government’s position,” the spokesperson said. “We are ready to act if any sanctions are extended to anyone in our network of supporters, and our Trustees and Directors are committed to doing all they can to support the people of Ukraine and to join the international condemnation of Russia’s invasion.”
The news comes as institutions worldwide are divesting from individuals with connections to the Kremlin against the backdrop of a war that is becoming bloodier and more vicious by the day. The Tate faced pressure to sever ties with Vekselberg after Labour Party Member of Parliament Chris Bryant said that “museums should run a mile from blood-drenched Russian money.”
Two weeks ago, Aven stepped down as a trustee of the Royal Academy in London. The institution also returned a donation he made to its ongoing Francis Bacon exhibition. (Aven and his business partner Mikhail Fridman have refuted the claims made in the EU sanctions, describing them as “spurious and unfounded.”)
The clampdown on Putin allies in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine is laying bare the extent of their involvement in the cultural sector. In the US, Russian oligarch Vladimir Potanin, who served as the nation’s first deputy prime minister under former President Boris Yeltsin, stepped down from his role as trustee at the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Metropolitan Opera announced it would no longer engage with pro-Putin artists.
According to an October 2020 report by the Anti-Corruption Data Collective, seven post-Soviet oligarchs connected to Russia’s interference in the 2016 US presidential election gave between $372 and $435 million to over 200 American nonprofits in the last two decades, including Harvard University and New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Some of these donations, the report adds, were likely made “to soften and whitewash” the oligarchs’ personal images or “in the pursuit of softening Russia’s image abroad.”