Alexander Gregory Barmine

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Alexander Gregory Barmine
Born Aleksandr Grigoryevich Barmin
(1899-08-16)16 August 1899
Mogilev, Russian Empire (now Mahilyow, Belarus)
Died 25 December 1987(1987-12-25) (aged 88)
Rockville, Maryland
Other names Alexander Gregory Barmine
Occupation diplomat/spy, propagandist
Employer Soviet GRU, US VOA, USIA
Known for defection
Spouse(s) Edith Kermit Roosevelt (m. 1948–52), Halyna
Children Margot Roosevelt, Tatiana Barmine, Olga Barmine, Gregory Barmine, Boris Barmine
Relatives Theodore Roosevelt (grandfather/inlaw)

Alexander Gregory Barmine (Russian: Александр Григорьевич Бармин Aleksandr Grigoryevich Barmin; 16 August 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 government

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.[4] 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."[4] 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?"[4]

That same month, Barmine received an insistent invitation to dine aboard a Soviet ship, the Rudzutak, which 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."[4]


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. It was later revealed that the Soviet NKVD under Nikolai Yezhov spent 300,000 French francs to accomplish the wet business.[4]

In his 1952 memoir, Whittaker Chambers describes the impact of the defections and (in most cases) assassinations of fellow spies:

Suddenly, revolutionists with a lifetime of devoted activity would pop out, like rabbits from a burrow, with the G.P.U. close on their heels—Barmine from the Soviet legation in Athens, Raskolnikoff from the Soviet legation in Sofia, Krivitsky from Amsterdam, Reiss from Switzerland. Not that Reiss fled. Instead, a brave and a lonely man, he sent his single-handed defiance to Stalin: Murderer of the Kremlin cellars, I herewith return my decorations and resume my freedom of action. But defiance is not enough; cunning is needed to fight cunning. It was foredoomed that sooner or later the door of a G.P.U limousine would swing open and Reiss's body with the bullets in the defiant brain would tumble out—as happened shortly after he deserted. Of the four I have named, only Barmine outran the hunters.[5]

American government

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.

In 1941, Barmine joined a U.S. Army anti-aircraft unit as a 42-year-old private soldier. In 1942, 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]

After a period of writing articles for various journals as well as his second book in 1945, 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.[6] 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".[7][8][9]

In his 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 Bolshevik revolution. This revelation soon inspired a massive espionage and propaganda effort worldwide, with particular emphasis on nations with democratic governments.[citation needed]

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.[10][11]

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


Barmine began publishing anti-Stalinist, anti-Communist writings within less than a month of his defection.[12][13][14][15] He also published a short treatment of the Moscow trials, dated 22 December 1937, in an American foreign affairs magazine.[16]

He published his first book on Stalin's Terror, Memoirs of a Soviet Diplomat, in 1938.[17]

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.

He published a second book, One Who Survived, in 1945, in which he wrote:

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.

By making his revelations public, Barmine felt the book might help frustrate Stalin's immediate desire to silence him. Upon its release, the Soviet government made no comment on Barmine's revelations, though they had denounced earlier works by other Soviet émigré authors.[4]

  • "Russian View of the Moscow Trials" in International Conciliation journal (February 1938)
  • Memoirs of a Soviet Diplomat: Twenty Years in the Service of the USSR, translated by Gerard Hopkins (1938)
  • One Who Survived: The Life Story of a Russian Under the Soviets, introduced by Max Eastman (1945)

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Hudgins, Sharon (2004). The Other Side of Russia. Texas A&M University Press. pp. 5–7. ISBN 978-1-58544-404-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 Smith, Richard H. (2005). OSS: The Secret History of America's First Central Intelligence Agency. Globe Pequot Press. pp. 15–16. ISBN 978-1-59228-729-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 Iverem, Esther (28 December 1987). "Alexander G. Barmine, 88, Dies. Early High-Level Soviet Defector". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-26. Alexander G. Barmine, a brigadier general in the Soviet Army who defected in 1937 and became an influential journalist and a United States Government official, died Friday at a nursing home in Rockville, Md. He died of complications resulting from a stroke.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 Barmine, Alexander (1945). One Who Survived. New York: G.P. Putnam. pp. xi-xii (friends short, Stalin's desires, Soviet efforts), 10–12 (defection), 18 (wet business), 247–248 (Leningrad Opposition).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Chambers, Whittaker (1952). Witness. New York: Random House. p. 36. LCCN 52005149.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. FBI Report, "Owen Lattimore, Internal Security - R, Espionage - R," September 8, 1949 (FBI File: Owen Lattimore, Part 1A), p. 2 (PDF p. 7): Six years prior to Barmine's 1948 FBI interview, the agency had already compiled a thick security dossier at the onset of World War II on Lattimore, recommending that he be put under "Custodial Detention in case of National Emergency."
  7. FBI Report, "Owen Lattimore, Internal Security - R, Espionage - R," September 8, 1949 (FBI File: Owen Lattimore, Part 1A), p. 2 (PDF p. 7)
  8. Time Magazine, Absent-Minded Professor?, Time Magazine, Monday, March 10, 1952
  9. Testimony of Alexander Barmine, 31 July 1951, U. S. Congress, Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Internal Security Subcommittee, Institute of Pacific Relations, Hearings, 82nd Congress, First Session (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1951), Part 1, pp. 199-200
  10. "New Horizons". Time (magazine). July 28, 1952. Retrieved 2008-06-26. In Los Angeles, Mrs. Edith Kermit Roosevelt Barmine, 24, granddaughter of Teddy Roosevelt, filed suit for divorce from Alexander G. Barmine, ex-Soviet general and diplomat, who turned anti-Communist during the 1937 purge.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Divorced". Time (magazine). November 3, 1952. Retrieved June 26, 2008. By Edith Kermit Roosevelt Barmine, 24, Hollywood columnist granddaughter of President Theodore Roosevelt: Alexander Gregory Barmine, 53, onetime Soviet army brigadier general, now chief of the State Department's Voice of America Russian section; after four years of marriage, one daughter; in Los Angeles.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Russian Diplomat Quits and Scores Soviet; Says He Will Be Slain, Pleads for Others". New York Times. 4 December 1937. p. 1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Barmine, Alexandre (25 December 1937). "Russian Disunity Is Laid to Stalin". New York Times. p. 6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Barmine, Alexandre (26 December 1937). "2 Executions Held a Sop to Cossacks". New York Times. p. 12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Barmine, Alexandre (29 December 1937). "Bukharin Believed Already Executed". New York Times. p. 5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Barmine, Alexander (February 1938). "A Russian View of the Moscow Trials". International Conciliation. New York: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (337): 43–52. Retrieved 1 September 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Barmine, Alexandre (1938). Memoirs of a Soviet Diplomat. London: L. Dickson Ltd. p. 360.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>