Conundrum: Soviet, British and American Intelligence in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939

Hosted by the Cañada Blanch Centre for Contemporary Spanish Studies

Cañada Blanch Seminar Room COW.1.11, Cowdray House, LSE


Dr Boris Volodarsky

Dr Boris Volodarsky

Visiting Research Fellow at the Cañada Blanch Centre


Professor Sebastian Balfour

Professor Sebastian Balfour

London School of Economics

A former Soviet intelligence agent investigates why less is known about the role of MI6 than that of the NKVD during the Spanish Civil War in a further instalment in the Centre’s ongoing series on the secret services of the Great Powers during the Spanish Civil War.

On 18 September 1938, only five months before Franco's government was recognised by Britain, the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS or MI6) reported to the Foreign Office: 'We cannot spot the winner yet… The outcome must be largely a matter of speculation.' For eighty years, scholars have been aware of the tremendous impact that the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 had on British political life. According to Tom Buchanan: 'The British have not always been as greatly moved by other people's wars as they were by the Spanish Civil War. Indeed, of all the foreign conflicts of the 20th century in which Britain was not directly involved, the war in Spain made by far the greatest impact on British political, social, and cultural life.' Little is known about the achievements of SIS during the Spanish Civil War. After the publication of a major study of the first 40 years of MI6 (1909-49), Ángel Viñas wrote: 'It is paradoxical that in our days more is known about the espionage service of the NKVD in Spain during the Civil War than about the British side.' In this paper, Boris Volodarsky will explain why this is the case. This paper forms part of his new book Between Stalin and Franco: Freemasons, Communists and Secret Services in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939.

Boris Volodarsky was drafted into the Soviet Army as a GRU Spetsnaz officer (military intelligence, special operations). After successfully defending his PhD thesis at the LSE under Professor Paul Preston, Boris now works as a consultant for international private risk analysis companies. He is the author of several important books, among them The KGB's Poison Factory (UK, 2009 and USA, 2010), El caso Orlov (Barcelona, 2013), Stalin's Agent (Oxford University Press, 2015) and the most recent Assassins (London: Frontline Books, November 2018). He is a Research Fellow at the Cañada Blanch Centre.

The Cañada Blanch Centre for Contemporary Spanish Studies runs a series of lectures, seminars and debates in order to disseminate and encourage knowledge of contemporary Spain. It also sponsors the publication of an important series of books on contemporary Spain.

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