Napoleon Bonaparte’s fateful invasion of Russia, known as the Fatherland War, was not only a titanic military clash, but also an espionage duel between Russian and French intelligence. The archives of the Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) reveal a classic true spy story set in Napoleon’s Paris, one filled with intrigue, adventure, and stolen secrets.
Alexander I of Russia and Napoleon I of France were the two main protagonists and antipodes of a military-political drama that played out on the battlefields of Europe at the very beginning of the 19th century. Both the Russians and French were watching each other vigilantly, understanding well that confrontation and military conflict were inevitable. In these conditions the acquisition of timely, reliable, and secret information on the designs and actions of the potential adversary took on a significance of the first degree.
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The tragic and untimely death of Russian poet, playwright and diplomat Aleksandr Sergeevich Griboyedov (1795-1828) in Tehran was just one episode in a geopolitical duel, the Great Game, as Russia and Great Britain maneuvered for position in Central Asia throughout the 19th century. This official account from Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), authored by A.N. Itskov, tells a story of diplomacy, espionage, and murder in Persia. Translated by Mark Hackard.
For the first third of the 19th century, Russia was engaged in bloody wars with Persia (1804-1813 and 1826-1828). Consequently Russia emerged victorious, and Persia was forced to recognize Russia’s annexation of Georgia, Dagestan, Northern Azerbaijan, and also the Yerevan and Nakhichevan khanates. In elaboration of the conditions of the Treaty of Turkmenchay, which legally formalized the results of the two wars and became the basis of relations between the two lands up to October of 1917, a most active participant was the diplomatic counsel under the Commander of the Russian Army of the Caucasus Ivan Paskevich, Aleksandr Sergeevich Griboyedov. Griboyedov had already worked in the Russian embassy in Persia between the two wars and had learned well the situation in the country. And when he journeyed to the camp of Abbas Mirza, the son of the Shah and commander of the Persian Army, to resolve political questions, at the same time he studied the state of the army and detected its low morale. Griboyedov also “probed” Abbas Mirza’s adjutant, Haji Mahmud Aga, regarding the latter’s possible future use as an agent, and was practically able to receive his consent on cooperating[i].
Continue reading The Tsar’s Man in Tehran