Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Oligarch: How culture can heal the East-West rift

By Nina Dos Santos, CNN
June 2, 2014 -- Updated 1338 GMT (2138 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Oligarch Andrei Filatov is a collector of Soviet-era art and is putting on an exhibition at London's Somerset House
  • Filatov doesn't agree with the sanctions against Russia but says there needs to be better understanding
  • He is putting on the exhibition as a way to encourage cultural ties and improve relations

Editor's note: Nina dos Santos is a news anchor and correspondent based in London. She is the host of CNN International's new business show, The Business View, which airs weekdays at 12pm CET. Follow her on Twitter and tell us, using the hashtag #cnnbusinessview, can soft diplomacy work?

London (CNN) -- While Ukraine's fight for freedom gets bloodier by the day and Russia faces the West's cold shoulder, in the elegant surroundings of London's Somerset House, one oligarch is using art to get his message across.

"This work is called 'Widows,' for one simple reason," says Andrei Filatov as he points towards a picture of five elderly ladies looking forlorn. "Because instead of an icon [on the wall] there is Karl Marx."

And in cottages where the father of socialism has taken the Holy Mother's place, he explains, "this tells us the women depicted have probably lost their husbands in the war."

Nina Dos Santos
Nina Dos Santos

For almost half a century the widows' empty eyes have stared out over Moscow's Tretyakov Gallery, caught behind the iron curtain as a new, "cold" war came and went.

Autumn Rain is one of Viktor Pokov's works based on the life and death of Russian poet and author Pushkin. This image, the exhibitors say, was sketched after Popkov's son dressed in a 19th century outfit and leaned against the door. Autumn Rain is one of Viktor Pokov's works based on the life and death of Russian poet and author Pushkin. This image, the exhibitors say, was sketched after Popkov's son dressed in a 19th century outfit and leaned against the door.
Autumn Rain. Pushkin.
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
>
>>
The Soviet-era art of Viktor Popkov The Soviet-era art of Viktor Popkov

But now, thanks to the 42-year-old's passion for paintings, they have been given a new perspective, on display for the first time in London alongside 39 other canvasses by Viktor Popkov, in a special exhibition dedicated to the Soviet-era artist.

The exhibition includes pieces from Filatov's own collection, and brings together works from museums across Russia's biggest cities, recording a post-Stalin age when heroic peasants and propaganda had begun to give way to themes of industrial optimism and the bloom of youth.

"I was born in the Soviet Union and I loved that country," says Filatov.

"So it seems right to showcase the good things that it created because there wasn't the opportunity to do so before. As a period, it was somewhat misunderstood."

With an estimated $1 billion fortune this Forbes rich list stalwart has clearly done well out of his country's break with communism.

Yet he is nostalgic about the past and, having amassed a sizeable collection of Soviet masterpieces, Filatov hopes to one day found his own museum in London and promote a "better understanding" of his home nation.

"I want to show the creative work of the Russian people, so that there is more love for Russia," he says. "That is why I want to build a museum here."

Filatov isn't new to the world of soft diplomacy.

As President of the Russian Chess Federation, he has overseen international tournaments at the Louvre in Paris and personally funded the restoration of the tomb of the Russian chess legend Alexander Alekhine in the same city.

Cultural exchanges, he says, can be key ways of keeping the dialogue going.

"For people to understand each other better they must communicate ... through the exchange of culture, through exhibitions, through theaters, through music and ballet.

"I hope this exhibition will improve the understanding and relations between different peoples and countries. That is its meaning."

For Filatov, just like many Ukrainian-born Russians, the concept of "home" is more complicated than it first seems.

Born in Kryvyi Rih in Ukraine, the co-owner of the ports and roads firm N-Trans describes himself as Russian but still has relatives in Ukraine.

The sooner there is an understanding by the European countries and the U.S., the faster there will be logical, sensible and constructive relations
Andrei Filatov

And like many practical business people with a sizeable stake in this complex region, Filatov leaves the artwork to make the bold political statements, saying only he considers sanctions imposed by the EU and the U.S., "a big mistake."

According to Filatov, "the sooner there is an understanding by the European countries and the U.S., the faster there will be logical, sensible and constructive relations."

Putting on a large Russian art show in London at a time of heightened animosity towards his country is an ambitious project. Even talking about art, at a time of deadly skirmishes in Ukraine, may seem flippant but Filatov does have another motive for wanting to host the show: to cater for the British capital's sizeable Russian expat population.

"Walking around here I discovered there is not one large collection of Russian art," he says.

"Russian culture is not presented here yet hundreds of thousands of people from Russia live here. Russian children go to school here and they are losing their connection to their own culture."

"Viktor Popkov: The Genius of The Russian Soul" was organized last year as part of 2014's somewhat overshadowed UK-Russia Year well before Ukraine's crisis pitted the countries against each other.

SEE MORE: Crisis in Ukraine

WATCH MORE: Billionaire declares victory in Ukraine

EXPLORE: Ukraine favors Europe

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
The Business View
Nina dos Santos is a news anchor and correspondent based in London. She is the host of CNN International's show The Business View.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1100 GMT (1900 HKT)
Forget the new black. This is the real black. You can't see it, or figure out its shape, it's the darkest material in the world.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1602 GMT (0002 HKT)
Jibo robot is designed to be an organizer, educator and assist family members. CNN's Maggie Lake met him and says she was impressed with his skills.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1634 GMT (0034 HKT)
With cyberattacks on the rise and here to stay, it's a modern-day challenge for everyone to get smarter about preventing them.
July 15, 2014 -- Updated 2044 GMT (0444 HKT)
Britain will launch the world's first spaceport outside the U.S., with first space tourists blasting off from the UK as early as 2018.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1044 GMT (1844 HKT)
Imagine a skyscraper that cleans the air. You won't have to wait long -- two will soon be built in China.
June 13, 2014 -- Updated 1529 GMT (2329 HKT)
Iraq produces 3.3 million barrels per day and has the world's fourth-largest oil reserves. But the current crisis is putting all this in danger.
June 27, 2014 -- Updated 1527 GMT (2327 HKT)
Who will lead the fractured European Union for the next five years? The question has caused weeks of bickering in already fractured EU.
June 18, 2014 -- Updated 1222 GMT (2022 HKT)
Sandwiched in between Iraq and Syria, Jordan's destiny seems to be one of a constant struggle for survival. John Defterios explains.
June 16, 2014 -- Updated 1314 GMT (2114 HKT)
The gas standoff between Russia and Ukraine could have a knock-on effect on Europe. Explore this map to find out why is the EU nervous.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1058 GMT (1858 HKT)
Bob Mazzer has photographed inside London's Tube network for 40 years. He's captured history.
June 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
The UK capital promotes its tech stars and shows it can compete with Silicon Valley. Here are five companies that pitch to make it big.
June 3, 2014 -- Updated 1029 GMT (1829 HKT)
As debate rages over whether Banksys should be for sale, we direct you to the ones you can still see on the streets.
June 2, 2014 -- Updated 1338 GMT (2138 HKT)
While Ukraine's fight for freedom gets bloodier by the day and Russia faces the West's cold shoulder, one oligarch is using art to get his message across.
May 29, 2014 -- Updated 1613 GMT (0013 HKT)
Andy McNab says being a psychopath makes us better at business, life and love. Could he be right?
May 30, 2014 -- Updated 2114 GMT (0514 HKT)
Index on Censorship's Jodie Ginsberg argues the "right to be forgotten" decision is too woolly.
May 22, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
Russia is at an economic crossroads as business turns its back on the country amid the Ukraine crisis. So what is next?
May 30, 2014 -- Updated 1024 GMT (1824 HKT)
CNN's Nina dos Santos speaks to the mothers of successful children and asks them: What's the secret of bringing up a winner?
ADVERTISEMENT