The Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Smith) to the Department of State

No. 830

Sir: I have the honor to refer to the Embassy’s despatch no. 810 of November 20, 1948,1 which transmits new Soviet customs regulations dated October 16, 1948, governing the imports of foreign representatives in the Soviet Union during the calendar year 1949. The accompanying Foreign Office note transmitting these regulations (No. 1299/PR dated November 162) terminates the “temporary customs privileges” accorded to the Embassy during the current calendar year under paragraphs 4, 5, 9 and 10 of a letter from the Soviet Chief of Protocol3 to the Counselor of the Embassy, dated October 29, 1947 (see Embassy [Page 939] despatch no. 1788, November 1, 19474). These exceptions related principally to the importation of replacements for leased furniture and worn rugs and draperies in Spaso House.

The new regulations are basically similar to those currently in effect (see Embassy despatch no. 1597, September 3, 19475), except that the import quotas have been readjusted to provide: a 300,000 ruble quota of waived customs duties for the general use of the Embassy; 120,000 for the “head of the Embassy”; 40,000 rubles each for Counselors, Military, Naval and Air Attachés; and 20,000 rubles each for secretaries, attaches and “secretary-archivists”. These quotas are to be administered on the basis of separate, individual customs record books which can not be transferred. Other new provisions: specifically define the period during which “first installation”6 articles can be imported as one year; require the clearance of goods from the customs warehouse within a maximum period of 3 months; provide proportionally reduced quotas for persons arriving after January 1; and specify that the effects of diplomatic personnel leaving the Soviet Union must be shipped within 3 months following the owner’s departure. The definition of official supplies for the operation of foreign missions and consular offices, obviously deliberately, has not been broadened, despite the many representations on the subject made by this and other missions in Moscow.

As will be seen from the enclosed copy of a letter dated December 3, 1948,4 which has been addressed to the Foreign Office, the Embassy has already requested certain clarifications and made certain requests (discussed below) in connection with the new regulations, and will promptly report any further information received. However, it is clear that the new Soviet regulations reflect, in large measure, Soviet reaction to our vigorous and repeated representations during the course of the past year and a half. It is accordingly probable that we will receive little in the way of clarification and nothing in the way of liberalization of these regulations.

On the basis of the Embassy’s present Table of Organization, total quotas for 1949 will amount to 1,180,000 rubles, as compared with the basic quota of 900,000, and a supplementary quota of 300,000, received in 1948, plus a considerable quantity of non-quota imports under the special exemptions which are now about to be terminated. Administration of the new scheme will be vastly complicated, as the quotas are [Page 940] granted only “for the personal use” of eligible individuals and shipments are recorded in separate quota record books which may not be used “for freight shipped to other persons”. Unused quota balances may not be carried over, and the Soviet authorities probably expect that these will be considerable, in view of the practical impossibility of making accurate advance calculations with respect to customs duty liabilities on incoming shipments.

The following paragraphs summarize the principal specific considerations arising from the provisions of the new regulations as they will affect the administrative procedures of the Embassy and of the Department.

[These paragraphs, comprising about six and one-half pages of this despatch, are not printed.]

In sum, I believe that careful administration of the Embassy’s imports under the new Soviet regulations, while complex and onerous, will nevertheless enable us to maintain our staff adequately at approximately its present level. As in all these things, a great deal will depend upon the way in which the regulations are applied by the Soviet authorities, and that can only be learned in practice. Pending a reply to the Embassy’s enclosed note, practical experience with the new regulations, and possible implementation of Burobin’s promise of six new living apartments during the first half of 1949 (see Embassy telegram no. 863, May 8, 1948), I do not recommend that retaliatory steps be taken to require the Soviet Government to reduce its official representation in the United States.

Respectfully yours,

W. B. Smith
  1. Not printed. The new customs regulations, effective on January 1, 1049, were contained in a booklet in Russian, accompanied by an English translation prepared by the Embassy.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Fedor Fedorovich Molochkov.
  4. Not printed.
  5. Not printed; but see footnote 3, p. 793. The title for the new Regulations was the same as given here for those dated July 12, 1947.
  6. Members of missions and consulates had been entitled to the importation of most goods and furnishings free of duty at the time of their first entry into the Soviet Union as initial or first installation articles.
  7. Not printed.