It’s no secret that since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russian authorities have done a rather poor job of protecting some of the country’s most prized possessions. Throughout the 1990s, whispers trickled around the world that Russia’s nuclear facilities were missing enough material to build a nuclear bomb, while in 2006 the Kremlin had egg on its face when it was discovered that a number of thefts had occurred at the Hermitage gallery in St. Petersburg.
Yet it appears that Moscow’s ability to secure and protect its most precious treasures is even more compromised than previously thought.
According to information released in a government audit last week, up to 50,000 artifacts and works of art have disappeared from the country’s 1,600 museums. The survey, ordered by former president Vladimir Putin following the Hermitage gallery fiasco, estimated that several million dollars worth of artifacts are missing. Some of the lost items include pre-revolutionary and Soviet-era medals and clothes along with works of art. The country’s interior minister, Col. Ilya Ryasnoi, told the Associated Press in an interview that museum staff are using their contacts to steal some artifacts without a trace, but that most are simply being lost during transportation.
In an effort to combat the problem, authorities have opened 15 criminal cases for largescale thefts, which carry a maximum prison sentence of seven years, and more than 100 museum employees have been charged with minor infractions. The commission that conducted the survey is expected to present its findings early next year. Until then, some 400 additional museums will be audited, including the State Historical Museum on Moscow’s Red Square. M
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