An Impossible Dream Becomes Reality: A.I. Spiridovich and the Personal Security of Nicholas II

By Daly, Jonathan | The Historian, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

An Impossible Dream Becomes Reality: A.I. Spiridovich and the Personal Security of Nicholas II


Daly, Jonathan, The Historian


Aleksandr Ivanovich Spiridovich (1873-1952) was one of the most remarkable gendarme officers of late Imperial Russia--in fact one of the most remarkable officials. He engineered the arrest of key political terrorists, penned nine volumes of history and reminiscences, and helped secure the physical safety of Nicholas II for a decade. Western scholars have paid fairly little attention to him, but his writings have often been used, for he is seen as a reliable commentator on the Russian revolutionary movements, Rasputin, the imperial family, and, of course, the late imperial security police. (1) Yet in Russia he is now clearly recognized as a significant historical figure: In 2009, the respected publisher Molodaia gvardiia brought out a nearly 600-page semi-popular (though partially archivally based) study devoted to him. Oddly, the name Spiridovich does not appear in the title. (2) Konspirativnost' (methodical secrecy), which he scrupulously observed throughout his professional life, apparently still hangs about him. (3)

A close study of his life and work, noteworthy topics in their own right, illuminates important elements of late Imperial Russian politics and culture. To start with, the Russian government was not without outstandingly talented officials. Yet the culture they operated in imposed severe restraints on their ability to make good on that talent. In particular, the all-encompassing role of interpersonal relationships, including overwhelming loyalty toward nasbi (ours) and relative negligence toward "ne nashi" (not ours), strongly influenced how even the most professional officials operated. As William Fuller has argued, Russian government officials

   ... instinctively understood something about late imperial politics
   that many historians have overlooked: kinship and personal
   relationships were often more important than unofficial or
   professional ones. One reason for this was the structure of the
   imperial government itself, which was guaranteed to produce enmity
   both laterally (among the ministries), and vertically (within the
   ministries). The conflicting institutional interests of the
   ministers meant that groups of them would always be at odds,
   regardless of who was in office ...

   Thus, in addition to the official place he occupied in the
   ministerial hierarchy, the typical bureaucrat also filled a
   specific position in the subterranean hierarchy of his patronage
   group. This system meant that there was a perpetual war among the
   factions within every ministry, for the satisfaction of any
   official[']s personal ambition depended completely on the
   discomfiture and disgrace of networks antagonistic to his own. (4)

Similarly, the hyper-centrality to the entire political system of the figure of the emperor swayed the behavior of even senior officials, not always for the best. Gaining access to the emperor could dramatically foster career advancement or enhance one's power, prestige, and wealth. The hope for such benefits surely motivated D. F. Trepov giving up his positions simultaneously as governor-general of St. Petersburg and deputy interior minister for police affairs to accept the formally inferior post of commandant of the court in October 1906. (5)

Born into a provincial gentry family in 1873, Spiridovich was educated at the Arakcheev Cadet Corps in Nizhnii Novgorod and the Paul Military School in St. Petersburg. (6) He spent seven years in the 105th Orenburg Infantry regiment before taking a post at Sergei Zubatov (1864-1917)'s security bureau in Moscow in December 1899. (7) Zubatov took a great liking to him (becoming the godfather of Spiridovich's daughter Kseniia) and soon entrusted him with important responsibilities, including several months heading a security bureau in Taurida Province (located in Ukraine today) from August 1902 during an official visit by the tsar to the Crimea. (8)

In December 1902, Zubatov arranged Spiridovich's appointment as director of the newly created Kiev Security Bureau. …

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