Russian expansion into Central Asia in the nineteenth century is usually seen either as the product of lobbying by big capitalist interests in Moscow or as a wholly unplanned process driven by “men on the spot” who slipped beyond St. Petersburg’s control. This article is a microstudy of one of the campaigns that immediately preceded the fall of Tashkent in 1865, during which Russian forces under General M. G. Cherniaev united the Orenburg and Siberian “lines” of fortification to create what was meant to be a permanent new frontier on the steppe. It demonstrates that neither of these explanations is satisfactory – economic calculations played a minor role in Russian decision making, while there was an authorized plan for expansion in the region. However this plan rested on the premise that the Russians could identify a “natural” frontier in the region, marked by a river, watershed, or mountain range. The instructions given to Cherniaev and other “men on the spot” reflected this, but a lack of detailed geographical knowledge meant that these orders were often contradictory or impossible to fulfill. It was this that allowed Cherniaev to determine the timetable (though not the direction) of Russian expansion, and that would see the fall of Tashkent in June 1865.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sociology and Political Science