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SPEECHES, INTERVIEWS, ARTICLES

26.06.2012

The noble struggle of 1812 has lessons for us today

Article by Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko in Russia Now supplement of The Daily Telegraph

If you walk past the Russian embassy Bayswater Road, London, you can see the sculpture of an eagle on a double column at Orme Square. Not everybody knows that this is a memorial to the Russo-British efforts in the war against Napoleon. It was erected in June 1814 when Londoners enthusiastically greeted Russian Emperor Alexander I and his military commanders Field Marshal Barclay de Tolly and Cossack General Platov. Their visit marked the allied victory over Napoleon's forces (though the final French defeat at Waterloo was still a year away).

The story began 200 years ago, when on June 24, 1812 Napoleon's 600,000-strong Grand Armée crossed Russia’s western border. The 1812 campaign, named the Patriotic War by the Russians, is known to the British mainly through Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, which recounts how the seemingly invincible Corsican tasted defeat.

Initially outnumbered by the French, the two Russian armies retreated, avoiding major battles. They eventually joined forces at Smolensk, where Field Marshal Kutuzov took command over the Russian forces. The bloodiest battle was fought on September 7 at Borodino, a little more the 60 miles west of Moscow. The Russians consider it their victory although the Russian army had to retreat after a battle that was inconclusive in the military sense.

Tolstoy was right when he wrote that at Borodino “the Russians won a moral victory”. Both armies suffered crippling damage, two out of three casualties were killed by cannon fire, and Kutuzov let Napoleon enter Moscow, which was soon ravaged by fire. Meanwhile, the Russian army was gathering forces, the militia and guerrillas made life unbearable for the invaders, and in October Napoleon fled Moscow.

The rump of the Grand Armée was defeated in a series of engagements, the last of them being the disastrous crossing of the Berezina River. Before the end of the year, several thousand demoralised French soldiers were expelled from Russia, and in 1813 Alexander I led the European coalition to restore peace, stability and the balance of power in Europe, which was crucial for Russia’s development.

Thus, the road to Waterloo began at Borodino. Aside from diplomatic and military co-ordination of the war effort, we have a lot of other common legacies to celebrate. For example, Russia's war minister and army commander Michael Barclay de Tolly, as his name suggests, came from a Scottish family. And the most magnificent monument of the war, the Military Gallery in the Winter Palace, comprising more than 300 images of Russian commanders of the period, was the work of the acclaimed British painter George Dawe. His work earned him more fame in Russia than in his native England. Portraits of Alexander I by British artists are also kept in Windsor and Apsley House.

It is especially significant to me that, here in London, I can shake hands with descendants of Russian soldiers and statesmen who won the crucial victory in 1812. One of them is Dominic Lieven, author of the brilliant Russia Against Napoleon and descendant of one of my predecessors, Prince Christopher von Lieven, who was in London between 1812 and 1834.

This 200-year anniversary of the war against Napoleon is a reminder that Russia and the United Kingdom were allies in 1812, confronting together common challenges, each doing its bit in the opposite extremes of the continent, and putting aside the mutual distrust, which was rife, like in some other periods of our history. Still, the leaders of 1812 were able to make the right decisions, prioritising what was most important and what was secondary. We waged a just war to defend our countries' sovereignty, not against the French nation but against the aggression personified by Napoleon.

Emperor Alexander I made an enormous effort to establish the Concert of Europe – which was the United Nations of its day – and urged Europe's monarchs to treat their peoples and each other in a Christian way, for he believed that ties of brotherly love were stronger than coercion by force of arms or law. He also made a desperate attempt in 1812 to mediate between the then warring nations of Britain and United States to ensure that the forces of important allies were not distracted by overseas conflicts.

Russia invested a lot in this principled foreign policy though the late 19th century was not an age of idealism. Thus, we saw the unnecessary Crimean War, which paved the way for German unification as a Greater Prussia and the countdown to the First World War.

Perhaps Britain should once more look at the lessons of 1812-1815, now that all of us in the Euro-Atlantic area share common threats and challenges. In a twist of history, we have been able to heal the discords with the French (as we did later with the Germans) and now Moscow and Paris enjoy a high degree of mutual trust and co-operation.

For Russia, the Patriotic War of 1812 was more than another armed conflict. It was an unprecedented cause of liberation for the whole of Europe, and it gave rise to a social and political awakening for Russian society. It shaped Russian patriotic sentiment and pride, and gave us a greater awareness of our Europeanness, of our national stakes in the peace and unity of Europe, which Fyodor Dostoyevsky would later call “European nostalgia of the Russian soul”.

To commemorate the anniversary, our embassy, together with the Russian community in the UK and our British friends, has prepared a series of commemorative events. In a symbolic gesture, the first of them was the performance of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture with gunfire by HMS Belfast on Victory Day, May 9. In this way, the famous light cruiser, which led Arctic convoys in the Second World War when our nations struck an alliance again, resonated with much earlier common glory and sacrifice. I am sure the spirit of 1812 will live on.




LATEST EVENTS

12.02.2016 - Alexander Yakovenko for RT

Russia and the United Kingdom - these two powers, for centuries, have been tied into the most complicated relations: enemies at one time, and yet allies and cooperators at another. But now the temperature between the two is steadily going down, with Britain leading the anti-Russian sanctions and, just recently, coming out with allegations of Moscow’s involvement with a death of former FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko. What’s pushing London to make such statements? Does the Cold War-like vector of Cameron’s policy resonate with public opinion? How much is this public opinion is shaped by the voice of mainstream media? And, finally, is there a hope for a thaw? We ask the Russian Ambassador to the UK. Alexander Yakovenko is on Sophie&Co today.


12.02.2016 - Opinion: credibility of British Litvinenko Judgment Doubtful (Eurasia Review, By William Dunkerley, February 10, 2016)

A dark cloud of suspicion still hangs over a 2006 British murder mystery. The Litvinenko affair started as a London spy mystery. It made top headlines back in the day. Riveting allegations claimed Alexander Litvinenko died of polonium poisoning ordered by Russian president Vladimir Putin. Now almost ten years later, the mystery has evolved into a government political scandal. After years of false starts and inaction, an official inquiry was finally called in 2015. Getting to the bottom of things was its ostensible purpose.


11.02.2016 - Opinion: Litvinenko and the Demise of British Justice (by James O'Neill, Dissident voice)

The publication on 21 January 2016 of the report by British Judge Sir Robert Owen on the death of Alexander Litvinenko was predictably seized upon by anti-Russian elements as confirmation of their conviction that Russia in general and President Putin in particular were the personification of modern day evil.


05.02.2016 - Opinion: six reasons you can't take the Litvinenko report seriously (by William Dunkerley, the Guardian)

Inquiry points the finger at Vladimir Putin and the Russian state, but its findings are biased, flawed and inconsistent. An inquiry into the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko in the heart of London in 2006 has concluded that he was “probably” murdered on the personal orders of Vladimir Putin. This is a troubling accusation.


29.01.2016 - Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko's opening remarks at the presentation of the of joint forecast “Global System on the Brink: Pathways toward a New Normal”

Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko's opening remarks at the presentation of the of joint forecast “Global System on the Brink: Pathways toward a New Normal”


27.01.2016 - Speech by Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko at wreath laying ceremony on Holocaust Memorial Day

Today we are here, at the Soviet War Memorial, to remember one of the darkest, most tragic and shameful chapters in the history of mankind – the Holocaust. It is a powerful reminder of the perils of discrimination and intolerance, of just how catastrophic and barbaric the incitement to racial hatred can be.


21.01.2016 - Opinion: Statement of Investigative Committee on Investigation into Death of Alexander Litvinenko

Russian investigative committee on Litvinenko case


19.01.2016 - Implementation of the nuclear deal with Iran will strengthen regional security

On January 16, the IAEA Director General released a report confirming that Iran has completed the necessary preparatory steps to start the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which was agreed upon in Vienna on July 14, 2015 between the group of six nations (P-5 plus Germany) and Iran with a contribution from Federica Mogherini of the European Union. Under the JCPOA, approved by the UN Security Council, the release of this report signifies the start of the Plan’s implementation.


23.12.2015 - Message by Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko to the British astronaut Major Timothy Peake

Dear Mr Peake, May I wish you and your family a merry Christmas and a happy New Year. I wish you every success in your mission abroad the International Space Station, which, besides its scientific value, already contributes to development of friendship between the peoples of Russia and Britain. Here in London we witnessed enthusiasm comparable to the Russian emotions in 1961, the year of Yuri Gagarin’s space flight. I strongly believe this enthusiasm will translate into larger contribution of UK agencies and institutions to space research, and Russia is ready to be partner in this ambitious endeavor. I hope that in the coming year Russians and Britons will be able to work together on common tasks just as you did during your training in Russia and are doing now, aboard the ISS.


10.12.2015 - Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko's remarks at Digital BBQ-2015

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, Today is the fifth time we are holding our digital BBQ, which gives me reasons to consider it an established tradition and share some reflections of what changes we have seen since 2011. First, at that time most people were already connected, and the use of social networks was heavy – but today it has become a truly inalienable part of life, and even websites as such have largely been overtaken by social networks.



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