U.S.-Russian relations in the revolutionary years
This chapter describes the early collaboration between U.S. intelligence and White forces in their common fight against the Bolsheviks, which startedtowards the end of the short-lived Provisional Government of Alexandr Kerenskii in 1917. When the Russian Civil War was lost by the White-Entente alliance, the U.S. supported White émigrés that had settled in the West, particularly in Germany and France, the centers of White emigration in the interwar period. To that effect, the U.S. predominantly extended aid to staunchly Orthodox émigré figures, since they saw godless Bolshevism as an assault on Christian supremacy. Furthermore , the U.S. continued to liaise with representatives of the repressed Russian Orthodox Church inside Russia, which it saw as an important ally in the fight against the atheist Soviet Union from within.
Although the history of U.S. relations with Russia reach back to the early Russian Empire, it was not until the second half of the 19th century that U.S. incursions into Imperial Russia began to take shape in several interlocking spheres: the economic, diplomatic, religious, and starting in the late 19th century, ever more so the political. Until World War I, these incursions were not geared at military interventions; however, they would provide, in many cases, U.S. bridgeheads for counter-revolutionary subversion in the unfolding enmity that has marked American-Russian relations since the U.S.’s entry into WWI.

Woodrow Wilson (1856–1927), U.S. President from 1913 to 1921, had tried to keep the U.S. out of the war as long as possible, however, on April 6, 1917, he asked Congress to declare war against Germany in response to its declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare that resulted in an attack on American merchant ships. The U.S. formally joined WWI on the side of the Allied Powers of France, Britain and Russia two months after the February Revolution and three weeks after Tsar Nicholas II had abdicated, but were Russian allies only for a few months until the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia in November 1917.¹

In the “dual power” situation in Russia following the February Revolution, starting in summer of 1917, the U.S. heavily funded² the “democratic” Provisional Government (March 15, 1917– November 7, 1917) that had formed following Tsar Nicholas II’s abdication on March 15, 1917. The Provisional Government was, for the most part, headed by Aleksandr Kerenskii (1881–1970), which was wrestling for superiority with the rising Bolshevik Petrograd Soviet of Soldiers’ and Workers’ Deputies.

During the short-lived Kerensky government, the “Western Allies” (Allied Powers minus
Russia) were doing their utmost to convince Russians to keep fighting at the Eastern Front against the German-led Central Powers. At the same time, their support of the transient Russian Army brought them in contact with Whites scheming to eliminate the Petrograd Soviet and, if necessary, take over power from Kerensky. Their plotting culminated in the failed Kornilov putsch of September 1917, and when the Kerensky government fell less than two months later, gave way to an extended military cooperation between the Western Allies and the Whites against the fledgling Russian Soviet Republic.

While the U.S. had long shaken off the stranglehold of feudal aristocracy and outwardly carried the torch of democracy, shortly after it entered WWI, the U.S. started to support czarist, Orthodox and counterrevolutionary elements in order to set a premature end to the bourgeoning Soviet Union: a pattern that remains intact to this very day with an astounding continuity.

Having entered the war in an utterly chaotic period, in absence of any noteworthy U.S. military and intelligence infrastructure or exile community, U.S. diplomatic and intelligence emissaries resolved to working with the limited American and English-speaking presence inside Russia that had been built up before the revolution. These included, on the one hand, the diplomatic outposts in Russia and Washington, which naturally had fostered monarchist, military and religious contacts in the past. On the other hand, they also resorted to Protestant Christian, Christian humanitarian and ecumenical Christian infrastructures and contacts, which had been developed by U.S. missionaries beginning at the end of the 19th century, which, besides being active throughout Russia, were helpful in keeping track of the intricacies on religious matters—another important factor in the power game that would soon ensue.

Since the State Department staff concerned with Russian affairs showed a striking personal continuity, this pattern was sustained throughout several reincarnations of the “Russian Desk”—from its inception in 1917, throughout the interwar period, to WWII, and beyond.³ In the years between 1917 and 1933, in which the U.S. broke off diplomatic relations with Soviet Russia, the U.S. government followed the foreign policy course of the State Department: to isolate the Soviet Union by not recognizing it as a sovereign country —
a course which persisted throughout both Democratic and Republican presidencies.

Woodrow Wilson’s Russia “experts”

With the United States’ entry into WWI, the no longer neutrality-driven Woodrow Wilson went along with most of the schemes hatched by the flock of vehemently anti-Bolshevik Russia advisors from the State Department and the Department of War, by whom he was surrounded.

Robert Lansing

Among them was the anti-Semitic and racist Secretary of State, Robert Lansing (1864–1928) and his entourage, who came to believe that Bolshevism was “largely in the hands of Jews”. Lansing was an American lawyer and diplomat who served as State Department counselor at the outbreak of WWI, and then as U.S. Secretary of State under Wilson from 1915 to 1920 Besides being a fierce opponent of Bolshevik Russia, Lansing was a conservative as well as decisively pro-British and pro-business Democrat.

According to the journalist and war correspondent Scott Anderson, “Lansing had acted as the leader of a virtual shadow government within the Wilson administration,” which “quietly maneuvered for intervention on the side of the Entente,” and around Congressional oversight. In 1916, with Wilson’s approval, Lansing created what he dubbed the “Secret Service of the Department of State,” the Bureau of Secret Intelligence. The small group of agents hired by Lansing would eventually become the U.S. Diplomatic Security Service.

Lansing was married to Eleanor Foster (1866–1934), the daughter of the former Secretary of State, John W. Foster. She also became involved in Russian matters, for example as Chairwoman of the American Committee on Russian Relief. Sympathetic to the White monarchist cause, Foster was one of the co-organizers of the Grand Duchess Victoria Feodorovna’s U.S. trip in 1924. Foster’s older sister, Edith, had three children, all of whom would become involved in some way with Russian affairs: John Foster Dulles, who became Secretary of State; Allen Welsh Dulles, who served as Director of Central Intelligence; and Eleanor Lansing Dulles, who was an economist as well as a high-level policy analyst and State Department advisor.

Boris Bakhmeteff

At the center of the negotiations between the U.S. and the Kerenskii government stood the duo of Lansing and the Russian ambassador in Washington, Boris Bakhmeteff (1880–1951). Bakhmeteff was the main liaison to the Provisional Government on American ground.

Already in 1915, Bakhmeteff had worked with the International Red Cross on the territory of the Russian Empire and was a member of the Military-Industrial Committee and the Procurement Commission, which organized the supply of equipment for the Russian army from the U.S. and Great Britain.¹⁰ After the abdication of the Tsar, he became Vice Minister of Commerce and Industry in the Provisional Government.¹¹

In April 1917, Kerenskii’s government assigned Bakhmeteff an emergency diplomatic mission of seeking financial assistance from the U.S. government. In June 1917, Bakhmeteff was appointed ambassador of the Provisional Government in the United States.¹² After the fall of Kerensky’s government in November 1917, Bakhmeteff remained in the U.S. as a quasi-ambassador to several short-lived White “governments in exile” that were to follow.

After the October Revolution, the opportunistic Bakhmeteff managed to withstand the ensuing diplomatic quicksand, and he remained an ambassador in Washington, aiding the U.S. in plotting anti-Bolshevik interventions. In his memoirs, Lansing called Bakhmeteff, “an intense monarchist and completely loyal to his imperial master”.¹³ According to David Foglesong, author of arguably the most detailed account of U.S. interventionism during the revolutionary years, “To speed the restoration of ‘democracy,’ the administration arranged with Bakhmeteff for his embassy to become the most important conduit for covert American assistance to anti-Bolshevik armies in Russia”.¹⁴

When the U.S. started its North Russian and Siberian interventions in 1918, Bakhmeteff continued his activities in the Purchasing Commission and in the work of the Russian Information Bureau in New York, supporting the activities of the Russian government of the bloody White warlord Admiral Kolchak.¹⁵ Since Congress criticized the U.S. government for supporting Russian diplomats who no longer represented the actual government of Russia, in June 1922, Bakhmeteff finally lost his status as an ambassador and resigned.¹⁶ In addition to embarking on a successful engineering career, Bakhmeteff continued to aid Whites through the Humanitarian Fund, the Tolstoi Foundation (see below), and other White relief organizations in the U.S.¹⁷

Richard & Charles Crane

That Lansing’s Russia intelligence seems at times to have been fueled more by anti-Bolshevik and conspiracist hysteria than factual analysis is exemplified by his secretary at the State Department, Richard T. Crane II (1882–1938), and Richard’s father, Charles R. Crane (1858–1939), both of whom were avid supporters of U.S. interventionism. Charles Crane was one of the “wealthy men who advised the president informally on Russian policy,” and, back then, “the largest contributor to Wilson’s re-election campaign”.¹⁸

As the eldest son of the Chicago plumbing parts mogul, Richard T. Crane I (1832–1912), Charles Crane had vested business interests in Russia. Richard Crane Sr.’s company, Crane Co., was a major shareholder in the St. Petersburg Brake Plant, owned by the Westinghouse Company. As Vice President of his father’s firm, Charles Crane also managed Westinghouse’s Russian business. Between the 1890s and 1930s Charles traveled to Russia over 20 times, and, in 1898, even met Czar Nicholas II.¹⁹ In the early 1900s, Charles Crane brought famous imperial Russian and Eastern European statesmen, such as the future President of Czechoslovakia, Thomas Masaryk, and a future member of the Provisional Government, Pavel Miliukov, to lecture at the University of Chicago and, subsequently, became interested in Slav nationalism.²⁰ He also became acquainted with the future Patriarch of Moscow, Tikhon (1865–1925), during his U.S. service and, later, “financed Tikhon’s New York cathedral choir”.²¹

Crane supported Russia’s participation in WWI, stating: “Russia is fighting for its freedom from Prussian rule and is putting all its heart into this war”.²² Crane, a known anti-Semite²³, would eventually join the Root Commission (see below) during the short-lived Kerensky government.

Charles Crane’s son, Lansing’s secretary, Richard T. Crane II, was en par with his father’s anti-Semitism. For example, he “was convinced that Lenin was the only Bolshevik leader who was not a Jew”.²⁴ After the war, Crane would serve as the first U.S. diplomat in the newly created Czechoslovakia. Together with his father, Crane convinced Lansing and President Wilson to meet with Masaryk in June 1918 for negotiations to support the anti-Bolshevik Czechoslovaklegions and the foundation of a new independent Czechoslovak state.²⁵

Crane was reportedly steeped in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a fabricated anti-Semitic text from the early 20th century that portrayed alleged Jewish aspirations for establishing systematic world domination, and, by extension, Russian Bolshevism.²⁶

Boris Brasol

The Protocols text was purportedly introduced to the U.S. by a Russian anti-Semitic lawyer, Boris Brasol (1885–1963) after WWI, whose dazzling career is worth recounting given the influence he came to enjoy in American intelligence circles regarding White affairs.²⁷

Brasol had been recalled from the front in 1916 and was sent on a mission to the U.S. to work as a lawyer for an Anglo-Russian weapons purchasing committee. Following the revolutionary wave in Russia, Brasol stayed in the U.S., where he became an influential lawyer. By 1918, he already peddled conspiracy stories about a malign Jewish plot at work in revolutionary Russia to the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) and the State Department.²⁸ From March 1918 to April 1919, Brasol worked for American War Trade Intelligence as a “special investigator” in the most confidential Russian matters.²⁹ Brasol’s boss there, Paul Fuller Jr., was a partner in the Coudert Brothers law firm, which had legally represented the Russian imperial regime in the U.S. Brasol then briefly worked for the Army’s Military Intelligence Division (MID) until April 1920.³⁰

It was during that period that the Protocols started to circulate among American government officials, particularly diplomatic and military contacts. It eventually fell into the lap of Ernst G. Liebold (1884–1956), Henry Ford’s (1863–1947) fiercely anti-Semitic secretary. The Protocols subsequently became a centerpiece of the antisemitic campaign conducted by The Dearborn Independent (1919–1927), Ford’s weekly newspaper, while Brasol started working for Ford’s private intelligence service.

Henry Ford was openly pro-Hitler, and for his 75th Birthday in 1938, he received the Grand Cross of the Supreme Order of the German Eagle from Nazi officials, an honor which had been established by Hitler himself a year earlier. According to Jonathan Logsdon, “Brasol was ‘officially’ employed by Ford for two years, but remained in contact with him until 1939 He would later become a writer for the anti-Semitic priest, Charles Coughlin, and a Nazi agent, visiting German officials ‘to give rather than receive advice”.³¹

An ardent supporter of the restoration of the monarchy in Russia, Brasol served as the official U.S. representative of Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich, one of the claimants to the Russian throne in exile³², which brought him in touch with other supporters of the Whites, such as Bakhmeteff.³³ Brasol was a founding member of the Russian Imperial Union-Order, “a legitimist-monarchist organization established in 1928, which still exists in the US and in Russia in full support of the restoration of a legitimist monarchy in Russia in the person of Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna”.³⁴

Brasol also played a key role when Grand Duke Kirill’s aristocratic wife, Victoria of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, visited the U.S. in December 1924, while her husband remained at their residence in Coburg, Germany.³⁵ According to the investigative writers James and Suzanne Pool, “to obtain funds for her husband’s cause, and although it was never mentioned in the press, for the Nazis as well”.³⁶

Besides Ford, the authors identify the wealthy and Nazi-affine Julia Josephine Loomis (Stimson) as one of the Whites’ main high society benefactors in the U.S. Known as J.J. Loomis, she was the aunt of Henry L. Stimson, the two-time U.S. Secretary of War and at one time, Secretary of State. J. J. Loomis ran a Russian Relief Fund, a fundraiser program established by the Monday Opera Supper Club, an elite New York institution which comprised ca. 400–500 members of the highest echelon of American society. Both, Loomis and Ford had allegedly bought seats in the Coburg Regency Council, a purely decorative, but nonetheless symbolic, purchase, since Coburg was then still an important outpost of the Tsarist Whites supporting Kirill and Victoria.³⁷ Furthermore, Coburg was, at the time, one of the most important political bases of the bourgeoning Nazi movement since Victoria’s cousin Charles Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, was a supporter of Hitler since before the 1923 Beer Hall coup.³⁸

The link between the Whites and the growing Nazi movement developed as some of the Whites were convinced that only with the military and industrial might of Germany could they ever hope to defeat the Soviet military and regain their throne. As Weimar Germany had reached a political accommodation with the Soviet state, it became imperative to support the insurrectionary Nazi movement, which promised to expand east and overthrow the Bolsheviks. In turn, the early Nazi movement was glad to receive funds and political support from the Whites.

George Kennan

Besides a Brasol-bedazzled Crane, another of Lansing’s out-of-touch Russia “experts” was George Kennan (1845–1924), whom Lansing considered as “the highest authority in America on Russia”.³⁹ Kennan self-avowedly “‘began fighting … the Bolsheviki’ in May 1917, and thereafter did whatever he could ‘to array our people and our Government against them’”.⁴⁰

In 1864, Kennan, a cousin twice removed from the American diplomat and éminence grise in Russian affairs, George F. Kennan (1904–2005), had found employment with the Russian-American Telegraph Company to survey a route for a proposed overland telegraph line through Siberia and across the Bering Strait. Upon his return to the U.S. after two years and considered an expert on Russian matters, particularly the country’s ethnic minorities, Kennan became a journalist/spy, who, already in the mid-1880s, was an ardent regime-change activist, calling for opposition to the Tsar and espousing the cause of Russian democracy.

Kennan had been a known member of the Society of Friends of Russian Freedom (f.1890), an organization of British and American Christian reformers who supported the Russian anti-czarist opposition movement at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, some of whose members resorted to assassinations and terrorism to further their goals. Its membership included several internationally known religious, literary and political figures, including Mark Twain. From 1890 to 1914 the Society created a Publishing house Free Russia, issuing an eponymous monthly newsletter—possibly the first English-language journal to oppose Tsarist Russia—edited by the revolutionary and terrorist Sergei Stepniak and later the anarchist revolutionary Felix Volkhovskii, both affiliated with the Circle of Tchaikovskii (named after Nikolai Tchaikovskii, the Russian anarchist and associate of Prince Kropotkin, with no known relationship to the composer of that name).

In 1901, the Russian government had banned Kennan from Russia for his involvement in the radical anti-czarist opposition, which, however, did not deter Kennan from his anti-Russian agitation from across the ocean, being little in touch with imminent Russian realities. President Wilson read Kennan’s report in 1918 criticizing the Bolsheviks;⁴¹ however, in Kennan’s books, the Wilson administration was not resolute enough in intervening against Bolshevism.

The previous examples of the fiercely anti-Semitic, anti-Bolshevik and interventionist group surrounding Lansing, who were inclined to regurgitate anti-Semitic conspiracy theories à la Brasol rather than producing useful intelligence, indicate an opportunist interest, certainly far removed from any informed opinion on Russia.

Provisional Government (March–November, 1917)
Robert Lansing (1864–1928)
Chapter Content
U.S.-Russian relations in the revolutionary years
Aleksandr Kerenskii (1881-1970)
Boris Balkhmeteff (1864–1928)
Charles R. Crane (1858–1939)
Richard Teller Crane II (1882-1938)
Patriarch of Moscow,
Tikhon (1865–1925)
Boris Brasol (1885–1963)
George Kennan (1845–1924)
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Henry Ford receiving the Grand Cross of the German Eagle from Nazi officials, 1938.
Henry Lewis Stimson (1867–1950)
This chapter does not have appendices
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[1] Throughout this article new dates are used. According to the old calendar the October Revolution took place from October 24–26 and according to the new calendar, from November 6–8.
[2] David S. Foglesong, America’s Secret War Against Bolshevism: U.S. Intervention in the Russian Civil War, 1917–1920 (Chapel Hill & London: University of North Carolina Press, 1995), 55 ff. Foglesong details the scope of U.S. support to the short-lived Provisional Government and is otherwise an exhaustive source on U.S. intelligence involvement in Russia during the revolutionary years.
[3] The name Russian Desk is used here to denominate the section within the State Department that oversaw Russian affairs, which has gone through various organizational and name changes over the decades.
[4] Frederic L. Propas, “The State Department and the Russian Revolution: The Making of Policy, 1918-1924,” UCLA Historical Journal 3 (1982): 3–19.
[5] Foglesong, America’s Secret War, 41.
[6] David Glaser, Robert Lansing: A Study in Statecraft (Xlibris Corporation, 2015), 1–3,
[7] Scott Anderson, Lawrence in Arabia - War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of The Modern Middle East (New York: Doubleday, 2013),
[8] Nicholas B. A. Nicholson, “The 1924 Visit of the Grand Duchess Victoria Feodorovna to the United States,” Royal Russia, Vol. 6 (2014), 12 ff.,
[9] O. V. Budnitsky, “Posol V Ssha Nesushchestvuyushchego Pravitel’stva Rossii,” Novaya i noveyshaya istoriya, no. 1 (2000), 138,
[10] Foglesong, America’s Secret War, 51.
[11] Foglesong, America’s Secret War, 51.
[12] E. A. Ivanyan, “Bakhmeteff, Boris,” in Entsiklopediya rossiysko-amerikanskikh otnosheniy. XVIII-XX veka (Moscow: Mezhdunarodnyye otnosheniya, 2001), 70.
[13] Robert Lansing, War Memoirs of Robert Lansing (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1935), 332.
[14] Foglesong, America’s Secret War, 48.
[15] Jennifer Polk, “Constructive Efforts: The American Red Cross and YMCA in Revolutionary and Civil War Russia, 1917–24” (University of Toronto, 2012), 1,
[16] Budnitzky, “Posol V Ssha,” 134.
[17] O. V. Budnitsky, “Bakhmeteff,” in Bol’shaya Rossiyskaya Entsiklopediya (Moscow, 2005), 122,
[18] Foglesong, America’s Secret War, 50.
[19] E. A. Ivanyan, “Crane, Charles Richard,” in Entsiklopediya rossiysko-amerikanskikh otnosheniy. XVIII-XX veka (Moscow: Mezhdunarodnyye otnosheniya, 2001), 284.
[20] Ivanyan, “Crane, Charles Richard,” 284.
[21] Matthew Lee Miller, The American YMCA and Russian Culture - The Preservation and Expansion of Orthodox Christianity, 1900–1940 (Lexington Books, 2013), 44, 69.
[22] Ivanyan, “Crane, Charles Richard,” 284.
[23] Erik Larson, In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin (New York: Crown Publishers, 2011), 38–39.
[24] Foglesong, America’s Secret War, 41.
[25] Foglesong, America’s Secret War, 156.
[26] Foglesong, America’s Secret War, 41
[27] On Brasol see: Richard B. Spence, “The Tsar’s Other Lieutenant: The Antisemitic Activities of Boris L’vovich Brasol, 1910–1960, Part I: Beilis, the Protocols, and Henry Ford,” Journal for the Study of Antisemitism 4, no. 1 (2012): 199–220,; Richard Spence, “The Tsar’s Other Lieutenant: The Antisemitic Activities of Boris L’vovich Brasol, 1910–1960, Part II: White Russians, Nazis, and the Blue Lamoo,” Journal for the Study of Antisemitism 4, no. 2 (2012): 679–706,
[28] Spence, “The Tsar’s Other Lieutenant, Part I,” 211.
[29] Spence, “The Tsar’s Other Lieutenant, Part I,” 208–209.
[30] Spence, “The Tsar’s Other Lieutenant, Part I,” 209–210.
[31] Jonathan R. Logsdon, “Power, Ignorance, and Anti-Semitism: Henry Ford and His War on Jews,” Hanover College, accessed July 22, 2021,
[32] Boris Brasol, “Grand Duke Cyril’s Plans,” The New York Times, December 5, 1924,
[33] Finding aid for the Boris Bakhmeteff papers. Columbia University, Rare Book and Manuscript Library,
[34] Nicholson, “The 1924 Visit of the Grand Duchess,” 18.
[35] Nicholson, “The 1924 Visit of the Grand Duchess,” 28.
[36] James E. Pool & Suzanne Pool, Who Financed Hitler: The Secret Funding of Hitler’s Rise to Power, 1919–1933 (London: MacDonald and Jane’s Publishers, 1979), 116.
[37] Pool & Pool, Who Financed Hitler, 116.
[38] Loomis, the chairwoman of the club, had initiated the Fund in 1923, together with “Princess Cantacuzène-Countess Spéransky, Mrs. Richard Mortimer, Mrs. Henry H. Rodgers, and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt.” Nicholson, “The 1924 Visit of the Grand Duchess,” 10. An upper-crust boulevard magazine of the time called the Club, “a very sincere and genuine effort to create or recognize the existence of an aristocracy in America,” Arts & Decoration, January 1925 (New York: Hewitt Pub. Co.), 3,
[39] Foglesong, America’s Secret War, 44.
[40] Foglesong, America’s Secret War, 44.
[41] A. Scott Berg, Wilson (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2013) (electronic version), 465,
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