The banker for all seasons

Peter Bark was the Tsar's last Finance Minister. After the Revolution he escaped from Russia and came to England where he was welcomed with open arms by Royalty and the Establishment alike. Was he just fortunate or was there more to it?


Bark the banker

Pyotr Lvovich Bark, later Sir Peter Bark, (18 April 1869 – 16 January 1937) was a Russian statesman. He was born in Novotroitskoye village in Yekaterinoslav Governorate and was descended from a noble family from Latvia.

After studying law in St. Petersburg University,  Bark entered Credit Chancellery of the Ministry of Finance in 1891. In 1911 he was appointed Assistant Minister of Commerce and Industry and in 1914 became Minister of Finance, replacing Vladimir Kokovtsov. He served in that position throughout the First World War until the abdication of Nicholas II.  Although briefly detained by the Provisional Government he was soon released after which he immigrated to the west.

Bark came several time to London during the War for discussions and is seen here, left, with Loyd George and the French Finance Minister Alexander Ribot. He also delivered personal messages from the Tsar to the King.

Bark and the secret fund

In the six weeks now remaining to the monarchy Bark witnessed the growing political turmoil and social stresses he had feared and, as Nicholas prepared to leave the capital for headquarters towards the end of February (as we now know, for the last time as tsar), he called for Bark and made a strange but significant request.

Nicholas asked Bark to provide him with 200,000 roubles (worth £20,000 then or the equivalent of just under £1million now) from his 'Secret Fund' and to have it delivered to him in two days' time... When Bark became Finance Minister in 1914 the Secret Fund stood at 6 million roubles. It now stood at 10 million roubles (£1 million then, nearly £50 million now).

Though the existence of the Secret Fund was yet another facet of an authoritarian ruler, this was the first time in Bark's three years at the ministry that Nicholas had made any such request. To Nicholas's surprise Bark took the money personally to him and, without hesitation, he signed a formal receipt.

Though Bark said later that Nicholas looked worried, he did not show any outward nervousness. He left for headquarters that night. Nicholas's last monetary request to Bark (they were never to meet again) remains a mystery. Was it a response to a premonition of danger ahead? Was it for himself or did he leave it as an additional safeguard for Alexandra and his family at Tsarskoe Selo?

Probably we shall never know. Its significance lies in the fact that even with the forces of revolution building around him, Nicholas was still able to siphon state money for his own personal use, mingling state funds with personal funds, at will. Right to the end 'L'état c'est moi' ruled supreme in tsarist Russia.
William Clarke The Lost Fortune of the Tsars

Escape from the Revolution

After the February revolution Bark was arrested and imprisoned for a short time in the Tauride Palace. He was released by Kerensky government on the insistence of the new Finance Minister, Terestchenko, who needed his help in running the department.  Bark's family were rescued by the Royal Navy from the Crimea, along with the dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, mother of Nicholas II, and other members of the Russian royal family and nobility. Bark and his family then moved permanently to Britain.

He quickly became a confidant of King George, performing several confidential missions for him, including the return of some of the Empress Maria's jewels from Denmark after her death. He was given a knighthood by the King in the Royal Victorian Order, the personal gift of the sovereign.

The banker again

On arrival in England, Bark was given loans from Barings totalling £16,300. (About £800,000 today). Bark was a key figure in Bank of England Governor Montagu Norman's attempts to set up a network of financial institutions in central and eastern Europe with the aim of maintaining British financial leadership. By 1924 Bark had become a director of the Anglo-Czechoslovakian Bank, the Banque de Pays de L'Europe Centrale, the Croatian Discount Bank and the British and Hungarian Bank. In 1926 the Bank of England set up the Anglo-International Bank, as a parent company to the others and Bark was made Managing Director.

The OTMA account

Bark told my father the following: there had been an account in England under the code name OTMA (Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia). During the war Nicholas II ordered Bark to withdraw this account and bring it back to Russia as an example to society to do the same thing. Bark tried to talk the Emperor out of this, and he said it was the only time he ever saw Nicholas II lose his temper. The withdrawal was accomplished, and most, but not all of society followed suit.
David Chavchavadze, Crowns and Trenchcoats

Folllow the money

Bark had suggested to Nicholas that he keep an account open in London in case he and his family had to go into exile. Like several ministers, Bark was only too aware that Nicholas' hold on power was increasingly fragile. The conduct of the war, in which Nicholas had appointed himself commander in chief of the army, was going very badly. Soldiers were beginning to mutiny and there were bread riots in St Petersburg.

Did Bark, as a loyal civil servant, send money, possibly from the secret fund, which he controlled, into a London account as an insurance policy for Nicholas if he were forced into exile? If so what happened to it. And when George refused to allow Nicholas to come to England, could it have been diverted elsewhere and might that explain his highly unusual, and on the surface generous, welcome from royalty and the Bank of England? It was hardly the experience of the typical Russian emigré, most of whom ended up penniless, scattered throughout the cities of Western Europe. Or, like Nicholas and his family, abandoned to degradation and death.