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Alexander Barmine

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Subject: Sergey Kirov, Armand Hammer, Leonid Nikolaev, Owen Lattimore, Jānis Rudzutaks, United States Office of War Information, Yakov Blumkin, Avel Enukidze, Nadezhda Plevitskaya
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Alexander Barmine

Alexander Gregory Barmine
Born Aleksandr Grigoryevich Barmin
(1899-08-16)August 16, 1899
Mogilev, Russian Empire (now Mahilyow, Belarus)
Died December 25, 1987(1987-12-25) (aged 88)
Rockville, Maryland
Spouse(s) Edith Kermit Roosevelt (m. 1948–52)
Children Margot Roosevelt
Tatiana Barmine
Olga Barmine
Gregory Barmine
Relatives Theodore Roosevelt, grandfather inlaw

Alexander Gregory Barmine (Russian: Александр Григорьевич Бармин Aleksandr Grigoryevich Barmin; August 16, 1899 – 25 December 1987) was an officer in the Soviet Army who fled the purges of the Joseph Stalin era. After settling in France, he later moved to the United States where he enlisted in the U.S. Army as a private during World War II as an anti-aircraft gunner, later joining the Office of Strategic Services.[1] After the war, Barmine became an employee of the Voice of America during the Harry S. Truman administration.[2] He later became a senior adviser on Soviet affairs at the United States Information Agency (USIA).[1]


Early career

Barmine was born in 1899 in Mogilev, Mogilev Government, Russia (Russian Empire) (now Belarus).[3] As a young man, he participated in the Russian Civil War that followed the Russian Revolution. Sent to a Red Army officer's academy, he served in several battles. By the age of 22, he had risen to the rank of brigadier general in the Red Army. After attending the Red Army's general staff school, he was eventually assigned to the Soviet Foreign Office and Commissariat of Trade. He married a widow with prominent connections in the Communist Party, Olga Federovna, and the two traveled to Soviet Turkestan to work in the party apparatus. There they both became ill with severe cases of malaria. Returning to Moscow, the couple had two twin boys, but his wife died in childbirth.

Soviet Foreign Office

Barmine was later educated in Kiev and Moscow at the Frunze General Staff College and at the Oriental Languages Institute. As a member of the Soviet GRU, Barmine was assigned in 1935 to work abroad under diplomatic cover with the Soviet Foreign Office and Trade Ministry Commissariat under various diplomatic and trade representative titles. Late that same year, Barmine moved to Athens, Greece to take up an appointment as chargé d'affaires to the Soviet Embassy in Athens, Greece.

According to Barmine, Stalin's Great Purge began with the assassination of the Leningrad party leader Sergei Kirov. Kirov was widely admired in the Communist party for his efficiency as administrator of the Leningrad District, and his willingness to stand up to Stalin (Kirov gave orders that Leningrad party dissidents were not to be persecuted by the police). As a result, he drew the unwelcome attention of Stalin. Viewing Kirov's growing popularity as a threat to his hold on power, Stalin ordered the Soviet Secret police, the NKVD, to arrange Kirov's assassination; the GPU used a fanatic with a history of mental illness to accomplish the deed, Leonid Nikolaev. On December 1, 1934, Nikolaev shot Kirov in the Smolny Institute in Leningrad. After his funeral, Stalin blamed Kirov's assassination on reactionary elements within the Communist party. Later, in an act of supreme irony, Stalin had the Leningrad Opposition leaders and many other party officials executed on the grounds that they had plotted with the assassin to kill Kirov.[4] This act began the series of prosecutions, assassinations, and disappearances of Soviet military and government officials at Stalin's direction, known as the Great Purge.

Barmine had been a protege, co-worker, subordinate, or confidant of many of the Soviet Union's leading generals, diplomats, and government officials, nearly all of whom were arrested, imprisoned, and shot during the Stalin's purges during the late 1930s. During this time, Barmine was serving in the Foreign Office, and was posted to the Soviet legation in Athens, Greece. When Barmine's immediate superiors in the military and diplomatic corps began to disappear, or were announced to have been arrested and shot, Barmine began to fear that a similar fate was in store for himself.[5] In July 1937, after discovering co-workers rifling his desk and searching his offices in the dead of night, he received a letter from his 14-year-old son Boris, who wrote his father that he, his brother, and Barmine's mother were going "far, far away to bathe in the sea."[6] Boris also wrote:

"Dear Papa, they read to us in school the sentence passed on the Trotskyist spies, Tukhachevsky, Yakir, Kork, Uborevich, and Feldman... Wasn't it Feldman who used to live in our apartment house?."[6]

That same month, Barmine received an insistent invitation to dine aboard a Soviet ship, the Rudzutak,[7] that suddenly docked at Piraeus (Athen's port), without prior notification to the Soviet legation. Barmine declined an invitation to go aboard, but agreed to dine with the captain at a local restaurant, where he was strongly urged to return home. Constantly followed by NKVD agents, Barmine decided to defect to the West. He wrote in One Who Survived that "if I should be imprisoned as the result of some vile, lying charge...[My family] would believe the official communiqué. Nobody would dare speak for me, and I would never be able to clear myself. I would lose them as sons forever."[8]


Barmine fled Athens in 1937 to Paris. It was at this time that Soviet agents assassinated the former chief of the Soviet intelligence service in Western Europe, Ignace Reiss;[9] It was later revealed that the Soviet NKVD under Nikolai Yezhov spent 300,000 French francs to accomplish the wet business.[10]

Barmine decided he had to take action. A book Barmine wrote during this period based on his experiences in the Soviet Union under Stalin's Terror, titled Memoirs of a Soviet Diplomat, was published in 1938. By making his revelations public, Barmine felt the book might help frustrate Stalin's immediate desire to silence him.[11] Upon its release, the Soviet government made no comment on Barmine's revelations, though they had denounced earlier works by other Soviet émigré authors.[12] After the assassinations and questionable accidental deaths of several exiled Soviet citizens in Western Europe, including Trotsky's own son, Lev Sedov, he and an unidentified person left Europe for the United States in 1940. Barmine's aging mother and his two sons remained behind in the Soviet Union; unable to get them out of the country, he never saw them again.

Life in the United States

In New York City, Barmine applied for political asylum and citizenship as one of the earliest high-ranking Soviet government defectors to the United States. In the days before the formation of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Barmine does not appear to have been debriefed at all by the United States government regarding his extensive knowledge of Soviet leaders and policies. Barmine joined a U.S. Army anti-aircraft unit as a 42-year old private soldier in 1941. A year later, he obtained his U.S. citizenship.[1] In 1943-44, Barmine worked for the U.S.Office of Strategic Services, the wartime agency responsible for external intelligence and sabotage against Axis countries.[2]

In 1945, Barmine wrote a more complete autobiography, entitled One Who Survived. He said of writing it:

"When I work on my book, I feel as though I were walking in a graveyard. All my friends and life associates have been shot. It seems to be some kind of a mistake that I am alive."[11]

After a period of writing articles for various journals, Barmine joined the Voice of America in 1948, serving for sixteen years as chief of its Russian branch. On 14 December 1948, after an interview with Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, Barmine revealed that Soviet GRU Director Jānis Bērziņš had informed him prior to his 1937 defection that American professor and former Office of War Information director Owen Lattimore was a Soviet agent.[13] In 1952, Barmine testified under oath before a Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security (McCarran Committee) that he was told by Soviet GRU Director Berzin that Lattimore was "one of our men".[14][15][16]

In his 1973 memoirs, Barmine related how he and fellow members of the Soviet GRU were surprised to learn of the burgeoning support for Soviet communism among intellectuals in the Western democracies after release of Soviet propaganda on the Five Year Plan, just when he and other commanders had begun to lose hope in the Bolshevist revolution. This revelation soon inspired a massive espionage and propaganda effort worldwide, with particular emphasis on nations with democratic governments.

From 1964 to 1972 Barmine served as senior adviser on Soviet affairs at the U.S. Information Agency.[1] Barmine won three awards for outstanding public service while in the federal government.

In 1948, Barmine was married to Edith Kermit Roosevelt, granddaughter of President Theodore Roosevelt; they were divorced in 1952, and the union produced one daughter, Margot Roosevelt.[17][18]

He died at age of 88 on 25 December 1987 in Rockville, Maryland.[3]

See also

  • Moscow Trials


  • Barmine, Alexander, A Russian View of the Moscow Trials. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Division of Intercourse and Education (1938)
  • Barmine, Alexander, Memoirs of a Soviet Diplomat: Twenty Years in the Service of the U.S.S.R, London: L. Dickson Ltd. (1938), reprinted Hyperion Press (1973), ISBN 0-88355-040-7
  • Barmine, Alexander, One Who Survived: The Life Story of a Russian Under the Soviets. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons (1945), reprinted Read Books (2007), ISBN 1-4067-4207-4, ISBN 978-1-4067-4207-7
  • Iverem, Esther, Alexander G. Barmine, 88, Dies; Early High-Level Soviet Defector, The New York Times, 28 December 1987
  • Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2009. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2009. [1]


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