Lamberth wrote that "the fears purportedly motivating Russia's [art-loan] moratorium were legally unfounded, as such items would be immune under federal law" from any attempts to seize them.
The Russian ban only involves government-owned works. Alec Guroff, who heads the Foundation for International Arts and Education, a Maryland-based nonprofit that organizes exhibitions of art from Russia and other former Soviet bloc countries, said that a touring exhibition of paintings by Nicolai Fechin, a 20th century Russian artist who emigrated to the United States in mid-career, includes pieces loaned from private Russian collections, but not from government museums. It's currently at the Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis and opens Feb. 9 at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle.
"This ruling certainly won't make it any easier to convince the Russians to lift the embargo," Guroff said.
The case that sparked the art-loan ban stems from Chabad's decades-long effort to recover a library of 12,000 books and manuscripts and 25,000 pages of other religious writings that the Schneersons, a dynastic line of Chassidic rabbis from the Russian town of Lubavitch, began amassing in the 1700s. Russia's new Bolshevik rulers expropriated part of the collection in 1917-18; the dynasty subsequently moved to Poland before fleeing to America when Germany invaded at the start of World War II. The remainder of the religious trove was left behind, falling first to the Germans, and then to victorious Soviet forces.
For the record, Jan. 17, 2:30 p.m. An earlier version of this post said that Chabad attorney Seth Gerber acknowledged that the fines imposed against Russia were unenforceable. Gerber says that is not the case, and that he thinks the fines can be enforced under provisions of a U.S. law, the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which in certain instances allows for seizing the property of foreign nations when it is on U.S. soil and is "used for a commercial activity in the United States."