Memorandum by Messrs. George F. Kennan and Edward Page, Jr., of the Division of European Affairs

Comments on the Memorandum of Oral Conversation Left by the Soviet Ambassador on April 28, 1938

Before turning to the specific matters enumerated in the Ambassador’s memorandum (pp. 7–15),70 it is proposed to comment briefly on some of the statements contained in the first part of the memorandum.

1. It is claimed (page 2)71 that the Soviet Government provides foreign diplomatic missions with the information which they may require in the pursuit of their official duties.

The American Embassy has never been able to ascertain from the Soviet Foreign Office or any other Government organ the reasons for the refusal to grant to American citizens Soviet visas, or the reasons for the arrest of Soviet employees of the American Embassy. Furthermore, the Embassy has rarely been able to obtain from any Soviet Government office useful information of an economic or social nature, even when such information could in no way be considered a state secret. An officer of the Embassy was on one occasion refused permission by the Foreign Office to interview the chief of the Northern Sea Route. The Foreign Office also refused to permit the Embassy to have contact with officials of its own Far Eastern Division, for the purpose of a regular informal exchange of non-confidential information and views on events in the Far East.

2. It is stated that “the Soviet Government fails to see in the daily practice of the relations between the two countries, as far as the Soviet Union is concerned, any evidence of ‘an atmosphere in which close and friendly relations are impossible of development.’”

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It need merely be recalled in this connection that for the last two years leaders of the Soviet Government have been engaged in the conduct of an anti-foreign campaign which is almost unprecedented. As a result of this campaign the population has been taught that all foreigners are to be regarded as engaged in espionage under the immediate direction of their own diplomatic mission. Every effort has been made by the Soviet regime to isolate foreign diplomatic officials from the native population and to discourage the natives, both officials and private citizens, from divulging any information whatsoever to the official representatives of foreign countries. People who have had personal dealings with foreigners have been persecuted. Specifically, in the case of our mission, employees of the Embassy Chancery as well as a number of servants, chauffeurs, and gardeners employed by members of the Embassy staff have been arrested. Many others have suffered inconvenience through their connections with the Embassy. Practically every Soviet official who has ever had any personal connection with any member of the Embassy has disappeared from the scene in circumstances which indicated exile, imprisonment, or disgrace, if not execution.

It is apparent that the atmosphere which results from policies of this sort on the part of the Government is not one in which close and friendly relations can develop.

With regard to the various matters which are enumerated on page 7 et seq of the Ambassador’s memorandum, the question of debts and claims, the procurement of Soviet currency, the delimitation of the consular district, and the plan for the construction of an Embassy in Moscow, although they are of considerable importance are not pertinent to the present issue, which is primarily one of the unsatisfactory treatment accorded our Embassy by the Soviet Government and of current matters relative to the protection of American citizens in the Soviet Union. They therefore are not discussed in the present memorandum.

The specific statements in the memorandum to which issue must be taken are the following:

1. The Ambassador states that export duties are levied only against certain antiques and valuable rugs.

The Soviet customs authorities attempted to collect export duties on practically all the personal effects of any value of Dr. Rumreich, United States Public Health Surgeon, in December, 1937, (with the exception of clothing), even though many of his effects were imported from abroad and were covered by documents proving their importation. After repeated protests and negotiations with the Foreign Office which lasted for more than a month, Dr. Rumreich was allowed to take out his effects upon payment of a small export duty.

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It is stated in the memorandum that “appropriate measures have been taken to secure a speedier functioning of custom formalities.” In as much as we have received no complaints regarding the exportation of Dr. Bunkley’s and Mr. Henderson’s effects, it is not impossible that the representations of the Department in this regard have had some effect.

2. It is stated in the memorandum that “no difficulties in granting visas to American diplomatic officers are known to the Soviet Government or to its Embassy or Consulates in the United States.”

This statement is surprising. Secretary Page was delayed for over ten days in his transfer from Riga to Moscow last summer and representations were made at the Soviet Foreign Office on numerous occasions with a view to expediting the issue of his visa. The Military Attaché at the Legation in Riga was obliged to wait for several months for a Soviet visa and finally gave up a trip to Leningrad because of the dilatory tactics of the Soviet Government in issuing to him a visa.

3. It is further stated “no difficulties are experienced by American nationals, bearers of valid American passports, in obtaining exit visas upon their departure from the Soviet Union”.

This statement is incorrect. Thus Mr. Robert D. Petty (file no. 861.111) applied on October 2, 1937, for an exit visa but was continually put off. The Embassy intervened and pressed the matter on several occasions. Ambassador Davies saw Assistant Commissar Stomonyakov on November 10 regarding the matter and the visa was finally issued on that date. This is only one of many cases.

4. It is further stated in the memorandum that “the applications of other American nationals, holders of valid American passports for entry into the Soviet Union have been examined with all possible expediency and it is the practice of the Soviet authorities to pay special attention to applications of American nationals, which, as a rule, are accepted within a period of two weeks, with the exception of some cases requiring further inquiries”.

One of the commonest causes of complaints against the Soviet Union has arisen in connection with visas issued to American citizens. In the files of the Department are many letters from American citizens and despatches from American Missions abroad regarding refusals to permit American citizens to enter the Soviet Union or regarding great delay in obtaining Soviet visas. In this connection it might be mentioned that Eugene D. Pressley, clerk attached to the American delegation to the Brussels Conference, waited almost a month for a Soviet visa upon his transfer to the Embassy in Moscow in December, 1937, and Lieutenant Seidel, Language Officer in Riga, waited from February 11 until June 23, 1937, for a visa notwithstanding repeated representations on the part of the American Embassy in Moscow.

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5. The memorandum states that the American Embassy has had only “one occasion to address the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs on such a matter” (the retaining for inspection of drawings, plans, et cetera, which American business men in the employ of or in negotiation with Soviet authorities desire to take out of the country).

This statement is true. As a result of the Embassy’s representations in a case of this kind in 1935 written assurances were given by the Soviet Foreign Office to the effect that American nationals about to depart from the Soviet Union would be permitted to be present during the examination by the customs of plans, drawings, etc.

Despite this formal undertaking, the Soviet Government violated its promise in the case of engineers of the Radio Corporation of America working in the Soviet Union. Confidential papers were taken “for inspection” by the Soviet customs from certain engineers of the R. C. A. when they departed in the fall of 1937 from the Soviet Union. The Department instructed the Embassy to protest to the Soviet Government (Instruction No. 236 of October 27, 193772) but the Embassy did not do so for the reason that the Radio Corporation desired that no protest be made, on the ground that any protest would only serve to alienate any future orders from the Soviet Government. There is good reason to believe that important American patents are frequently infringed by various Soviet organs. The opportunities that are afforded Soviet officials to copy drawings, plans, et cetera, while these papers are in the custody of the customs officials for protracted “inspection” are obvious.

  1. The portion comprising items a) through g), pp. 650654.
  2. The fourth paragraph of the memorandum, p. 648.
  3. Ante, p. 397.