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This Billionaire Wants To Buy America's Vetoed Statues

Russian billionaire Andrei Filatov is hoping to purchase the controversial statues of Theodore Roosevelt and Alexander Baranov. 

Andrei Filatov

Russian billionaire Andrei Filatov wants to acquire two controversial US statues intended for demolition for his art foundation, Art Russe, to "preserve history for future generations."

The monuments include one of the 26th US President Theodore Roosevelt, located on the steps of the American Natural History Museum, New York, and one of Alexander Baranov, the Governor of Russian settlements in North America in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, located in Sitka, Alaska. The statue of Roosevelt shows the President on horseback flanked by a black man and an indigenous man carrying Roosevelt's guns, suggesting racial inferiority, according to protesters. As a monument to a European colonist, the Baranov statue represents a painful part of history for Alaska's Native communities, said protesters in Sitka.

Filatov, a father of six who has an estimated net worth of US$1.6 billion, said: “For me, first and foremost, this is above about preservation of the memory of statesmen who influenced the history of Russia, the development of its economy and statehood. Alexander Baranov was not just the governor of Russian settlements in North America. An incredibly gifted and energetic entrepreneur, he was involved in establishing Russia’s new trade ties with China and the United States. His role in the nation’s trade and economic development was enormous. As for Theodore Roosevelt, we should be grateful to him for supporting Russia in a difficult, losing war with Japan. It was the United States, under the presidency of Roosevelt, that mediated the 1905 peace talks, and the Portsmouth Peace Treaty signed in the United States had been concluded on conditions so favourable to Russia that Witte was received back home as the winner."

Corresponding letters have been sent this week to the authorities of New York City and Sitka.

The letter addressed to the New York City authorities points out that “Mr. Roosevelt was an important figure connected to Russia at different points in the history of the two countries." Given the historical and artistic significance of the statue erected in front of the American Museum of Natural History, it’s protection and preservation for future generations is "critically important."

The offending Theodore Roosevelt statue

The monument to Alexander Baranov in Sitka, AK, “represents a significant period in the history of relations between Russia and the United States at the beginning of the 19th century”. The letter to the Sitka City Hall informs the authorities of interest of the Art Russe Foundation to acquire and preserve the monument as an important part of the historical heritage of Russia.

It is not clear whether the US government is inclined to sell the statues. At the time of publication a spokesperson said they had not yet received a response from the authorities. 

Filatov is Chairman of the Board of Directors of Tuloma investment company, and a co-owner of the Globaltrans company, as well as President of the Chess Federation of Russia and an honorary academician of the Russian Academy of Arts. Art Russe was established by Filatov in 2012 to implement educational projects aiming to support and raise awareness of 20th-century Russian art. The collection of the Foundation includes master artworks in a variety of genres, dating to the period 1917-1991.

The Foundation aims to raise awareness of international audiences about Russian art of that period by supporting exhibition projects, as well as through art loans to Russian and foreign museums and galleries. An important area of activities of the Foundation is publication of artist monographs and catalogues as part of an independent publishing project.

In recent weeks the attention of the world has been turned to its statues and monuments as part of the Black Lives Matter campaign that followed the May 2020 killing of George Floyd, with many statues in the US and UK already removed, toppled or mutilated by protesters.