Moscow museum cancels art exhibition that was due to open in London next month; Pushkin museum official blames decision on lack of guarantees by UK government

MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) — In the latest sign of tense relations between Moscow and London, Russian officials have pulled an art exhibition that was supposed to travel to Britain next month, a Russian museum director told CNN on Wednesday.

The exhibition of French and Russian art is currently on show in Duesseldorf, Germany, and was due to open at London’s Royal Academy of Arts next month.

Instead, the show will return to Russia after it closes in Germany, said Zinaida Bonami, the director of foreign exhibitions for the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow.

Another Pushkin official, speaking to Russia’s Interfax news agency, blamed the decision on a lack of guarantees from the British government.

“The British side did not guarantee the return of the exhibition,” Irina Antonova, the museum’s general director, told Interfax. “As negotiations on such guarantees have ended successfully, the decision on returning all the exhibits to Russia has been made.”

But a spokesman for Britain’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport disputed that, saying the British government did guarantee the art would not be seized.

“We were asked to provide the Russian authorities with a letter of comfort,” department spokesman Toby Sargent said. “We did so, they have not replied to us, and we can see no reason why the exhibition should not have gone ahead.”

The exhibition, “From Russia: French and Russian Master Paintings 1870-1925 from Moscow and St. Petersburg,” includes more than 120 works from Russia’s principal collections, including the Pushkin and the State Hermitage Museum.

Included are Henri Matisse’s “The Dance” and Paul Gaugin’s “Maternity (Women on the Seashore).”

A spokeswoman for the Royal Academy in London said they had not received official word of Russia’s decision and were seeking clarification.

Last week, the Russian government ordered the closure of the Russian regional offices of the British Council, a cultural organization partly funded by the British government. The Russian government said the council had breached Russian tax laws and lacked proper legal documents.

British Ambassador Anthony Brenton said Russia linked the decision to the British government’s actions after the murder of Alexander Litvinenko in London last year, which led to a souring of relations between the two countries.

Britain issued an extradition request for its prime suspect in the case, Moscow-based businessman Andrei Lugovoi, but Russia refused to hand him over. Britain then expelled four Russian diplomats from London, leading Moscow to expel British diplomats and promise to review future visa requests for British officials.

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