Siberian Bukharans in Russian mission: gathering intelligence in Russia’s south-eastern borderlands, 17th-18th centuries

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Siberian Bukharans were one of the most agile group of the native population of Western Siberia and the Urals in the 17th and 18th centuries. This paper analyzes information about the border activities of Bukharans, characterizes their participation in the implementation of Russian foreign policy. The author considers the phenomenon of “intelligence” and the intermediary and diplomatic role of the Bukharans through the study of various aspects of Russian policy on the southeastern borderlands. The result shows that Bukharans were involved in intelligence activities in several forms. The Russian authorities could interview Bukharans who came to trade; they could include Bukharans in Russian embassies; or they could send them into the steppe as independent agents. The geography of their missions in the 17th and 18th centuries included the Kuchum lands, the Kazakh khanates, the Oirat and Dzungar lands, as well as the Qing Empire. Bukharans participated in the negotiations as interpreters and they were sometimes allowed to participate in diplomatic ceremonies such as gift exchange. The intelligence activities of some Bukharans could go hand in hand with their trade operations. Recruiting Bukharans for intelligence gathering tsks allowed the Siberian and Orenburg authorities to conduct a more effective policy in the steppe borderlands, based on the knowledge of local realities. The Russian authorities used information provided by the Bukharans for purposes such as drawing up maps, informing the voivodes of the borderlands about military dangers, the movement of troops, and diplomatic negotiations.

About the authors

Ivan D. Puzyrev

National Research University Higher School of Economics; Tyumen Scientific Center of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Author for correspondence.

Junior researcher of the Federal Research Center, Tyumen Scientific Center of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences; PhD student of the Department of History, National Research University Higher School of Economics in St. Petersburg.

17, Promyshlenaya St., St. Petersburg, 198095, Russia; 86, Malygina St., Tyumen, 625003, Russia


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