The Ambassador in Russia (Francis) to the Secretary of State

My Dear Mr. Secretary: I cabled you Sunday of my arrival and of my taking charge on April 28, and of sending a note on the same day to the Foreign Office and of my conference with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and also with the President of the Council of Ministers. My conferences with both of these officials was set forth almost in detail in the cablegram; consequently I shall not tire your patience in a résumé further than to say that the statement of Mr. Sazonoff was so surprising and inexplicable to me that I have been endeavoring since the interview to ascertain the cause for this change of position or of policy on the part of Russia toward the United States in regard to a commercial treaty.

I wrote you at length twice on the steamer while en route from New York to Christiania, and in both letters expressed my fear that certain interests in New York were making effort to have all trade [Page 311]between our country and Russia pay tribute to England as an intermediary.5 Since arriving here my fears have not been dissipated; in fact I have heard many things which confirm the suspicions I have cherished.

The economic conference between the Allies which is fixed for Paris June first was, in my judgment, inspired by England, as that country is making decided effort to occupy toward Russia the position held by Germany before the war. It is true that both Sazonoff and Stürmer expressed themselves as favoring direct commercial relations between their country and ours, but the English influence here is very strong and a persistent effort is being made to strengthen it. The loan which was being negotiated in New York some eight weeks ago, but for some unaccountable reason has not been consummated, was alluded to by Sazonoff in my interview with him, and he expressed the opinion that it would be impossible for America to get what he called double security on any loan our banks might make to Russia. When I asked him what he meant by double security he said that our capitalists were demanding in addition to the obligation specific collateral. I told him that no country now engaged in war would be able to negotiate a loan in America without collateral and cited my experience and that of others with the Anglo-French loan which we were unable to sell at 98, as we endeavored to do; and in fact never since the expiration of the syndicate have we been able to dispose of those securities without loss. From 96¼ it declined to 93⅝, and when I left America was selling at 95. All of this I told Mr. Sazonoff, but he persisted in saying that Russia would make no loan that required any security other than the faith or credit of the government itself.

In talking with Mr. Meserve, a representative of the National City Bank, on Saturday he told me that Russia had agreed, or was about to agree early in March, to the requirements of New York bankers, but subsequently refused to do so, and the only way of accounting for the change in position was the influence of England which was desirous that all foreign relations of a commercial or financial character had by Russia should be through London.

In a talk with a gentleman today who has had a great deal of experience in Russia and is well known in the United States, the opinion was expressed that Bark, who is the Minister of Finance of Russia, is completely under British influence, and the same gentleman went so far as to state that in his judgment Sazonoff is held in [Page 312]the position of Minister of Foreign Affairs by British rather than by Russian support. If this is true, and I am not prepared to question it, we can account for Russia’s change of front concerning the commercial treaty with the United States.

Mr. Sazonoff seemed to be prepared for my broaching the subject of a commercial treaty, because when I did so he very promptly stated that Russia would make no commercial treaty now with any country whatever. In addition to expressing sincere disappointment on the part of our government and our people generally, I made effort to impress upon Mr. Sazonoff that personally I so regretted his position that if not discouraged I was greatly chagrined because of the apparent impossibility of achieving what was my main object in accepting the Russian mission. Our interview was in good spirit on both sides, but there was no variation in his expression to the effect that nothing certainly would be considered until after the Paris conference.

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The Embassy building is in very poor condition. I am sleeping in the Embassy and taking breakfast here, which is furnished by the wife of one of the messengers; my luncheon and dinner I get elsewhere. Of course I shall not keep up this manner of life because, regardless of my own pleasure and convenience, it is not becoming to an American Ambassador. I shall not go to a hotel; the Astoria has been requisitioned by the government for the exclusive accommodation of army officers. The Hotel de l’Europe is full to overflowing, and there is no other hotel in the city which would comport with the dignity of an American ambassador. Mr. Dearing has written you concerning the needs of the Embassy and I have only to add thereto that if we would make headway with the people of this great country it is advisable, if not necessary, that our representative here should live in a manner that would not reflect upon our country by comparison with the representatives of other governments. I have met no official Russians other than those mentioned above, but I have met many Americans whose number seems to be increasing from week to week.

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Your cablegram of information sent via Tokio and also via London was received yesterday;6 I am preparing a résumé of that information to send to the Foreign Office here for its information.

From the most recent dispatches we have had concerning the relations between the United States and Germany it appears that the Imperial Government is willing to make whatever concessions may be required in order to prevent a severance of diplomatic relations.

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When in Stockholm I was met by several persons who came there from Germany to confer with me concerning the care of German and Austrian prisoners in Russia which, without exception, they presented as deplorable. We are organizing the inspection force and I shall be able to make more full report on this subject within a few days.

Respectfully yours,

David R. Francis

P. S. As I have not yet been presented to the Emperor, all communications addressed to any branch of the Russian government must still be signed by the Chargé d’Affaires.

D. R. F.
  1. For letter of Apr. 10, 1916, to the Secretary of State, and letter of Apr. 8, 1916, to President Wilson, a copy of which was enclosed, see Hearings Before the Special Committee Investigating the Munitions Industry, United States Senate, 74th Cong., 2d sess. (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1937), pp. 8704-8707.
  2. Not printed.