Memorandum by the Secretary of State of a Conversation With the Ambassador of the Soviet Union ( Troyanovsky )

The Soviet Ambassador came in upon my invitation. I proceeded to say to him that an accumulation of irritating experiences with his Government has become almost intolerable; that, just at a stage when every vestige of the moral influence of our two great countries should be brought to bear against international desperadoes and in support of peace, these almost unprecedented and highly annoying practices and conditions in the Soviet Union are having surprisingly wide repercussions in this country and I could not for a moment believe that the higher officials of his Government are parties to such practices or even have a knowledge of them; that such are not common to any other civilized nation, nor even the uncivilized nations as a rule; that they are calculated to a surprising extent to injure the relations between our two countries at a time when the critical world situation calls for the fullest cooperative effort on the part of both countries, consistent with policies of each. I then read to him the following memorandum, stating it was in rough form and that I was sending him a copy of it solely as a part of an oral conversation37 which the memorandum is in fact:


Ever since diplomatic relations between the United States and the Soviet Union were established38 the American Government has earnestly sought to make a real contribution toward maintaining them on a close and friendly basis by effecting solution of a number of matters [Page 625] which have been the source of irritation if not indeed of friction. That success has not attended its efforts is due, in part at least, to the attitude that has been evidenced by the Soviet authorities.

In its conduct of the foreign relations of the United States the Department of State extends to foreign diplomatic representatives accredited to this Government, and expects that there will be extended to American diplomatic representatives accredited to foreign governments, the fullest possible measure of cooperation in furnishing them with information which they may require in the pursuit of their official duties, or, when such information is not readily available to it, in placing them in communication with the agencies of the Government from which the information may be obtained. These facilities are extended to the diplomatic representatives in the United States of the Soviet Government as a common courtesy incidental to normal diplomatic intercourse. They have not been so extended to American diplomatic officers in the Soviet Union. Denial of such facilities to a diplomatic representative can not but operate to create an atmosphere in which close and friendly relations are impossible of development, and to reduce very greatly the value of the diplomatic mission to its Government. Indeed, the American Government has been constrained, in view of the conditions under which the American Embassy in Moscow has functioned ever since it was established, to consider whether the value to it of that mission is sufficient to warrant the maintenance of the Embassy on the present scale.

In its endeavors to resolve certain specific matters which have arisen in the course of American-Soviet relations, the American Government has not, to its great regret, always been able to feel that it had been accorded the full cooperation of the Soviet Government. Among these matters are:

The settlement of debts and claims.39
The procurement of Soviet currency for the use of the American mission in Moscow.
The delimitation of the consular district of the American Consulate General at Moscow.
The plans which this Government had to construct in Moscow a building housing its representation in that capital.40 The funds which originally were available for this construction have since been reallocated for other purposes.
The regime of inspection to which the personal effects of diplomatic officers must be submitted upon the departure from the Soviet Union of those officers, and the provision for the imposition upon certain of these effects of export duties, or in lieu thereof, an appraisal fee.
The considerable delay and difficulty which American nationals, including diplomatic officers, have experienced in obtaining visas for entry into or departure from the Soviet Union, and the great inconvenience which has been caused bearers of valid American passports and valid Soviet visas by the refusal of the Soviet authorities to permit them to enter the Soviet Union. Continuance of these conditions may compel the American Government to consider whether it can continue to make special efforts to grant visas to Soviet nationals freely and with dispatch.
The practice of the Soviet customs authorities of retaining for several days or longer drawings, plans, et cetera, which American engineers and technical men who have been in the employ of or in negotiation with Soviet authorities desire to take out of the country with them. As a result of this practice the person presenting the drawings, et cetera, must postpone for several days or longer, often at considerable inconvenience and expense, his departure from the Soviet Union if he wishes to take the papers with him. In any event, he must for the time being relinquish possession of papers which not infrequently contain highly confidential information which is American industrial property, and this despite the circumstance that more than two years ago the American Embassy in Moscow received from the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs written assurance41 that American nationals about to depart from the Soviet Union would be permitted to be present during the examination of drawings, plans, and similar documents in their possession.

The Ambassador appeared incredulous as to several of the criticisms offered. He attempted to insist that there is no discrimination against Americans. I replied that, even if all other nations are treated in this fashion, it is just as inexplicable to the people of this country and to the American victims of these practices, and that just as much injury is being done to the relationships between our two countries as if these were in fact discriminations; that no other nations in the world, as stated, are indulging in such astonishing practices and, from this viewpoint, it would seem to me that, if for no other reason, his government would desire to catch step with other nations. I emphasized the view that my object in thus speaking very bluntly was by reason of the fact that I had from the beginning and before recognition sought to promote the most useful and valuable relationships between our two countries from the standpoint of world progress and peace; secondly, that it is all-important for our two nations to make themselves the fullest possible factors for peace and world stability in the immediate future while the world is threatened with anarchy by those who play the role of international bandit. I said that these small but highly irritating practices are a large factor in preventing the consummation of both of these great objectives.

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I concluded by most emphatically expressing my astonishment at the way the pending Robinson case has been and is being dealt with by the Soviet Government.42 I reiterated that their single action of having people suddenly disappear, even though clothed with irregular passport and visa from another country, and of seeking to cover over the whole matter with a thick veil of mystery and silence is something that no civilized or uncivilized nation does anywhere, so far as I knew; that this case is calculated, being a human interest story, to arouse increasingly deep-seated prejudice and hostility against the Soviet Government and its people, throughout the United States as well as in other parts of the world; and that it is incomprehensible to me as to why the Soviet Government should pursue this course of silence and of ignoring its patent obligations under treaty arrangements with our Government as same relate to cases like that of the Robinsons,—to say nothing of the great injury the Soviet Government is inflicting upon itself.

The Ambassador gave no hint as to what the facts are in the Robinson case but he did say that he saw no reason why we should not be given some information. He did not pledge such information or pretend he had the influence and ability to get it.

I emphasized the view that we had met with every obstruction in our plans to construct an Embassy building at Moscow, to say nothing of many irritations which were astonishing to us; that the prosecution of the work of the building had been brought to a standstill because of the increasing number of these annoying impediments; that, of course, if and when the Soviet Government should decide to treat us as we are accustomed to being treated by other nations, both civilized and uncivilized, we would expect to resume the building project.

C[ordell] H[ull]
  1. This memorandum was handed to the Soviet Ambassador on January 24, 1938, by Assistant Secretary of State Messersmith.
  2. For the agreements of November 16, 1933, by which diplomatic recognition was accorded the Soviet Union, see pp. 2736.
  3. For the failure of the negotiations on debts and claims, see pp. 166 ff.
  4. Concerning the inability to reach satisfactory arrangements for the construction of an Embassy building in Moscow, see pp. 268 ff.
  5. In despatch No. 761, July 25, 1935, the Ambassador sent the text of a memorandum received on July 22, 1935, from the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs wherein it was stated: “It is self-understood that the competent authorities intend in the future to permit foreign citizens to be present during the examination of documents which these persons take out.” (861.602/268)
  6. For the arrest and detention of American citizens by the Soviet authorities, see pp. 708 ff.