- In 1825, following the death of Tsar Aleksandr I, a group of Imperial Army officers moved to rebel against Aleksandr’s brother Nicholas, heir to the throne. The plotters, all drawn from the nobility and veterans of the Napoleonic Wars, sought a confrontation in Senate Square in St. Petersburg on 14 December, when the troops were to take the oath of allegiance to the new autocrat. A second confrontation between rebels and imperial troops took place in southern Russia. The confrontation ended with troops loyal to the new tsar firing on the rebels, many of whom were peasant soldiers who did not even know the cause of the confrontation. For example, rebel troops chanted “Konstantin i Konstatutsiya” [Constantine and constitution] but when asked what this meant, the soldiers told the authorities that Konstantin was the legitimate tsar and Konstatutsiya—a female noun in Russian—was his wife.The leaders of the revolt were arrested in the capital and the provinces. Five of the conspirators were hung and 121 were sentenced to exile or imprisonment in Siberia. The Decembrist revolt was an important watershed in the history of the Russian internal security service, convincing the new tsar that the threat to his regime came not from a peasant revolution, but from young officers contaminated with the virus of liberalism. It also convinced the new autocrat to form a security police, the Third Section, to conduct surveillance of those suspected of disloyalty and treason. Russians honor the Decembrists as the first Russian revolutionaries.Joseph Stalin was very conscious of the Decembrists’ example. He believed that just as the Decembrists had been impressed with the West during 1812–1814, so Soviet officers exposed to the West during World War II could also be seduced into rebellion and treason. For this reason, Stalin and his major security lieutenants carefully monitored the attitude of soldiers who had served in Germany, from the rank of marshal down. Shortly after victory over Nazi Germany in 1945, several leading officers were arrested, and Marshal Georgi Zhukov was banished to a military district to rusticate.
Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. Robert W. Pringle. 2014.
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