661.11241/38: Telegram

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

375. My despatches 1619 and 1663 of September 2 and 19 this year.77

1. The Embassy has been experiencing increasing difficulties since September 20 in obtaining the duty free entry of shipments.

2. The Moscow customs is now holding for the payment of import duty or reexportation abroad, three shipments for members of the staff, clothing for Haynes, automobile parts for Chipman, and phonograph records for Cheney, solely because they are addressed to individuals other than the Chief of the Mission, notwithstanding I have authorized the customs to debit the import duty against my registration book (see page 2 of my despatch 1619). As the goods for Haynes and Chipman were ordered subsequent to September 20 (see first paragraph despatch No. 1663) it will probably be necessary to reexport these articles for consignment back in accordance with regular procedure.

The Embassy presented a letter to the customs on October 26 requesting the duty free entry of 19 cases of Government owned property consisting of 17 cases of stationery and office supplies covered by the Department’s invoice of official supplies dated September 20 this year and 2 cases of electrical goods shipped through the United States Despatch Agent at New York. The customs states orally that it can release duty free only the memorandum books, headed paper and envelopes and printed forms and that the estimated duty on the remaining supplies is approximately rubles 250,000. It also states that unless I authorize the debiting of this import duty against my registration book (my annual import duty quota is only rubles 60,000; see Embassy’s despatch 1281 of May 12 this year) the remaining supplies can be released only upon payment of the import duty or they may be reexported. The Foreign Office states orally that in this instance the customs is acting in strict accordance with laws and regulations in force.

4. Prior to August 1 this year the Embassy authorized the customs to debit import duties on shipments of Government owned property and other goods addressed to the Mission or to American members of its staff against the Embassy’s registration book but since August 1 authorizations have been made in my name in my capacity as Chief [Page 665] of the Mission against my registration book (see 7th paragraph my despatch 1619). I have withheld authorizing the debiting of import duty on Government owned property against my registration book since August 1 and the present shipment of office supplies and electrical goods is the first instance since that date of the customs refusing to release American Government owned property duty free. I do not feel that import duties on Government owned property should be debited against my registration book without specific instructions from the Department and the shipment in question is remaining in the hands of the Soviet customs pending receipt of instructions from the Department. In this regard reference is made to point 2 on page 6 of the Embassy’s despatch 976 of February 21 this year.78

In connection with the foregoing there is reason to believe that the import duty quotas of the foreign Diplomatic Missions in Moscow are now being revised by the Soviet authorities and that when the new quotas become effective any import duty in excess thereof must be paid or otherwise the goods will not be permitted to enter the country. In order to assist the Embassy in studying the ways that might be open in dealing with the development of the situation, I should appreciate receiving information as to courtesies enjoyed by Soviet representatives in the United States and regarding any restrictions on customs or other immunities which might be applied by the United States authorities to Soviet representatives in the United States in the event that the argument of reciprocity might be found useful or advisable here. Other Missions in Moscow are laboring under similar difficulties and it is possible that some collective action may be considered when the German Ambassador79 becomes dean of the Diplomatic Corps upon the departure next month of the British Ambassador.

  1. Neither printed. These despatches reported a revision of the Soviet customs regulations of February 10, 1933, according to a Soviet note of September 3, 1938, which gave notice that “from September 20, 1938, shipments arriving for the Embassy from abroad will not enjoy duty-free entry unless such shipments are addressed to the chief of mission.” (661.11241/33, 36)
  2. Ante, pp. 638, 640.
  3. Friedrich Werner, Count von der Scimlenburg.