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

No. 2234

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of the Department’s instruction No. 530 of March 14, 1939,40 regarding the courier service of the Embassy and enclosing a copy of Mr. Henderson’s memorandum of his conversation on the matter with Mr. Oumansky, the Soviet Chargé d’Affaires ad interim.

On page 3 of the Embassy’s despatch No. 1655 of September 16, 1938,40 regarding the Soviet regulations governing the passing of diplomatic pouches and the examination of the personal luggage of diplomatic couriers appears a statement to the effect that on September 14, 1938, an official of the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs informed a member of the Embassy staff that personal luggage belonging to and accompanying American diplomatic couriers crossing the Soviet frontier would not be examined by the Soviet Customs. The above-mentioned official of the Commissariat, Mr. Klyavin, Assistant Chief of the Protocol Division, further stated on September 16 to the same member of the Embassy staff, Mr. Ward, that Soviet diplomatic couriers entering and departing from the United States were receiving exemplary treatment from the United States Customs and that the Embassy could rest assured that American couriers will receive all possible courtesies at Soviet frontier points. While Mr. Klyavin suggested in this latter conversation that only those Americans bearing diplomatic or special passports be used for courier duty in the Soviet Union, he added that exemption from Customs examination of accompanying personal luggage would be accorded to all couriers and requested that any failure of the Soviet frontier authorities to accord such exemption be brought to his attention.

For six weeks or so following these conversations of September 14 and 16 the fortnightly Moscow–Riga shuttle couriers, who were Foreign Service clerks on duty in the Embassy, were not requested by the Soviet frontier authorities at Bigosovo to submit their accompanying personal luggage to Customs examination, but following this period [Page 842]two consecutive fortnightly couriers were required to submit their accompanying personal luggage to Customs examination both upon departing from and returning to the Soviet Union. An opportunity was taken to bring this situation to Mr. Klyavin’s attention, who expressed his regret and stated that he would take immediate steps towards obviating further recurrences of such examination. He again requested that failure of the Soviet frontier authorities to accord exemption from the examination of the accompanying personal luggage of American couriers be brought to his attention. He took this occasion to suggest that only secretaries or attachés of the Embassy, who are entitled to receive a Soviet lavissez-passer, be used as official couriers of the Embassy, upon which Mr. Ward informed him that it is not practicable for the Embassy to deprive itself of the active services in Moscow of one of its secretaries or attachés four days out of every fortnight.

Following this last conversation with Mr. Klyavin the Embassy adopted the practice of furnishing each of its official couriers a document in English and Russian, a copy of which is enclosed,42 stating that while the courier should, if so requested, submit his accompanying personal luggage for examination by the Soviet Customs at the frontier, he should at the same time note the name and title of the examiner in order that the Embassy may appropriately inform the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs. This document is dated in both English and Russian as of the date on which the courier departs from Moscow and is sealed with the rubber seal of the Embassy. No courier of the Embassy bearing a copy of this document has been required to submit his accompanying personal luggage to examination when crossing the Soviet frontier, although several of the couriers have been requested to submit to such examination but in each case the request has been withdrawn upon exhibition of the document.

The couriers traveling from Riga to Moscow on the Moscow-Riga shuttle service are usually accompanied by large shipments of foodstuffs, which are carried in the baggage car as checked luggage, but no effort has been made to have these foodstuffs passed by the Soviet Customs at Bigosovo as the accompanying personal luggage of the courier—formal clearance through the Customs being effected in Moscow.

In order that the Department may have a fuller understanding of the courier service operated from Moscow, there are enclosed copies of the Embassy’s Chancery Instruction No. 24 of August 18, 1938, and No. 33 of November 28, 1938.43

Respectfully yours,

A. C. Kirk
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