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The Chargé in the Soviet Union (Henderson) to the Secretary of State

No. 958

Sir: With reference to the Department’s Instruction No. 307 of January 19, 1938,45 enclosing memoranda of separate conversations which Mr. Troyanovsky had with the Secretary of State and Mr. Dunn, concerning certain problems in American-Soviet relations, I have the honor to transmit herewith two memoranda46 setting forth the substance of conversations which I had on February 3 and February 9, 1938, with Mr. Weinberg, the Chief of the Third Western Political Division of the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs.

It will be observed from the enclosures that Mr. Weinberg is inclined to the opinion that the remarks of Mr. Dunn regarding the conditions under which the Embassy is compelled to work were intended as personal criticism of one or more officials of the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs. It will also be noted that he professed to believe that the conversations with Mr. Troyanovsky in Washington were prompted by the desire of certain groups in Washington to bring about a deterioration in Soviet-American relations. A previous engagement rendered it impossible for me to conclude my conversation of February 9 with Mr. Weinberg. It is probable, however, that he will refer again to the matter. I personally have considerable doubt that any discussions in which we may engage will assist in bringing [Page 634]about any noticeable permanent improvement in present conditions.

In my opinion the causes of the difficulties which the Embassy encounters in endeavoring to function are so deeply grounded in the Soviet system and in the present general Soviet attitude towards all foreigners regardless of category that little can be accomplished at the present time towards removing them. The conditions under which the Embassy carries on its work have become more difficult during the last year, and there is no immediate prospect of an improvement taking place. There has been a marked decrease in the willingness and the apparent ability of officials of the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs to render assistance to the Embassy. They have in general shown even more timidity than heretofore in approaching, on behalf of the Embassy, officials of other commissariats and Soviet institutions. Their timidity is understandable when it is realized that since last spring the following important officials of that Commissariat have disappeared, in addition to numbers of less outstanding figures and minor employees:

  • The First Assistant Commissar;
  • The Chief of the Legal Division;
  • The Chief of the Economic Division;
  • Two Chiefs in succession of the Press Section;
  • Two Chiefs in succession of the Political Division handling Central European Affairs (one of whom it is understood has shot himself);
  • The Chief of the Political Division handling Near Eastern affairs (whose execution was recently announced);
  • The Chief of the Political Division handling Western European and American affairs; and
  • The Chief of the Consular Division.

Although the purge may already have spent most of its force in the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs, it is believed that some time must elapse before the morale of the officials of that Commissariat will rise to such an extent that they will dare to show much energy in assisting foreign diplomatic missions. In fact, during recent weeks the attitude of the Soviet authorities towards the representatives of foreign Governments in the Soviet Union appears to have become unyielding rather than more conciliatory. This attitude is reflected in the demand that one or more consulates of some fourteen countries be closed; in the recent attack on the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, the Afghan Ambassador;47 in interpretations of the customs regulations in a manner unfavorable to diplomatic missions; in additional arrests of Soviet employees of diplomatic missions; and so forth.

In so far as personal discourtesy on the part of individual officials of the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs is concerned, I have no complaint to make. Following the arrest of Mr. Neymann (his predecessor), Mr. Weinberg, apparently for fear of being accused of being [Page 635]too friendly towards foreigners, assumed a categoric, curt, and decidedly unsympathetic manner in dealing with members of various diplomatic missions, including this Embassy. In only one instance, however, has any of my interviews with him been of what might be called a disagreeable character. Since that interview terminated in a manner to my satisfaction, I did not consider it worth while to report it to the Department. On the other hand, Mr. Vinogradov, the Assistant Chief of the Third Western Political Division, who is in charge of the American desk, has usually been as friendly in his contacts with the members of the Embassy as his position would permit. Other officials of the Commissariat have also usually been agreeable, though frequently unable to comply with our requests. I believe that the Department is aware that it is contrary to the rules of the Commissariat for a member of a diplomatic mission to have an interview with an official of a political geographic division which is not charged with handling the affairs of his mission.

It seems likely that, following the conversations which have taken place in Washington, an order has been issued to the effect that the members of this Mission be treated with a greater degree of consideration. At any rate, the Secretaries of the Mission have noted an apparent effort on the part of officials of the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs to treat their requests in a more sympathetic manner even if they cannot grant them. Nevertheless, on February 14 another one of our Soviet employees was arrested. Furthermore, Lieutenant Commander Bunkley, who has been ordered to the United States, is beginning to encounter difficulties with the Soviet customs officials, similar to those encountered by Dr. Rumreich.

In case any member of the Commissariat should again undertake to discuss the matters raised with Mr. Troyanovsky during the middle of January, I shall inform the Department regarding the substance of our conversation.

Respectfully yours,

Loy W. Henderson
  1. Not printed.
  2. Neither printed.
  3. Abdul Hussein Aziz.