This paper examines two linked cases of abortive Imperial expansion. The British invasion of Afghanistan and the Russian winter expedition to Khiva both took place in 1839, and both ended in disaster. These events were linked, not merely by coincidence, but by mutual reactions to intelligence received in Orenburg, St Petersburg, Calcutta, London, and Tehran. British and Russian officials shared similar fears about each other's ambitions in Central Asia, similar patterns of prejudice, arrogance and ignorance, and a similar sense of entitlement as the self-conscious agents of two ‘Great Powers’. By examining the decision-making process which preceded these twin cases of expansion, and the British and Russian attitudes to Central Asian rulers and informants, the paper provides not only a deeper understanding of what provoked these particular disasters, but also of the wider process of European imperial expansion in the early nineteenth century.