Much as today in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, the battle for control over Central Asia and the Near and Middle East in the 19th century was fierce and bloody. Sometimes it was conducted in secret, sometimes in public; sometimes it created a great stir, at other times no one noticed. It was fought throughout the nineteenth century by the foreign ministries of Great Britain and Russia and the armed forces of the East India Company and then the British Empire on the one hand, and sections of the Russian army commanded from Tiflis, Orenburg and Tashkent on the other, together with mobile and highly qualified spies on both sides posing as scholars, travellers, merchants and clerics. The story of this battle is told in thousands of newspaper articles, hundreds of books, and hundreds of thousands of secret reports penned by the actors in this great drama, which was played out in the course of a century in lifeless deserts and mountain ranges whose peaks were sometimes over three and a half miles high. This unique Russian account of Kipling’s ‘Great Game‘ — from a strictly Russian perspective — takes the form of a chapter by chapter review, by Professor Grigory L. Bondarevsky — a Russian academician (Oriental Institute of the Soviet Academy of Sciences and the Russian Academy of Social Science) who played an important part in defining post-war Soviet policy in Central Asia and the Middle East — of Peter Hopkirk’s excellent study The Great Game: On Secret Service in High Asia. The review initially appeared over a matter of months in the journal Central Asia and the Caucasus in World Affairs (1995 — ed. S. Christie). This book is not only a secret service history, or to be more accurate a history of the rivalry between the secret services of the British and Russian empires in the nineteenth century; it is also an entertaining account of the geographical discovery of unknown and sometimes forgotten countries in Central Asia, which was then a mysterious place.
Professor Bondarevsky was murdered in Moscow on 8 August 2003. (NB: A complex character, Bondarevsky had fingers in lots of disparate pies as I later discovered — to my cost — in Baku, Azerbaijan. See the 2003 obituary in Lyndon Larouche’s Executive Intelligence Review)