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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

12.09.2017 - Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko's remarks at the exhibition opening (“Scythians: Warriors of ancient Siberia” 12 September, British Museum)

Today the British Museum and the State Hermitage of Saint-Petersburg are once again proving their unique world class by bringing a whole new civilization to London. Ancient, and almost mythical, but creative, powerful and very different from what we have all known about antiquity – the Scythians.


14.07.2017 - Letter of Consul General Mr Andrey Pritsepov to the Herald newspaper, published 13.07.2017

I NOTE a rather questionable article by Mark McLaughlin (“Russians lurking near Faslane to eavesdrop on nuclear submarines", The Herald, July 11). Do you really believe that 145 million Russians would elect a leader who would command his nuclear submarines to chase someone's sole and lonely operative U-boat which is firing missiles in the opposite direction or Type 45 destroyers with faulty engines or an aircraft carrier without aircraft on it, all of them being located in Scottish waters?


14.07.2017 - Letter of Consul General Mr Andrey Pritsepov to the Herald newspaper, published 13.07.2017

I NOTE a rather questionable article by Mark McLaughlin (“Russians lurking near Faslane to eavesdrop on nuclear submarines", The Herald, July 11). Do you really believe that 145 million Russians would elect a leader who would command his nuclear submarines to chase someone\'s sole and lonely operative U-boat which is firing missiles in the opposite direction or Type 45 destroyers with faulty engines or an aircraft carrier without aircraft on it, all of them being located in Scottish waters?


03.07.2017 - Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko's remarks at breakfast event: Scythians: Warriors of ancient Siberia (3 July, British Museum)

Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m happy that Scythians: Warriors of ancient Siberia exhibition is gaining momentum. We have all seen the excellent teaser reviews in the papers. They are a good sign, but one always expects world class events from the State Hermitage and the British Museum. The public expectations are high and no doubt they will be met.


15.06.2017 - Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko's speech at the British Library exhibition "Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths"

The exhibition "Hope, Tragedy, Myths" gives an excellent insight into the tragic events of 1917: why the revolution started, how it unfolded and evolved into the civil war. It explores the ideas behind the conflict and gives a comprehensive and accurate image. The exhibition gives a unique opportunity to see original documents related to the key personalities of the Russian history, and not only politicians - the section telling the story of the Russian emigration has valuable documents on Russian literature history.


13.06.2017 - Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko’s speech at Russia’s National Day Reception (13 June 2017, London)

Your Royal Highness, Excellencies, Dear friends, It is a privilege to welcome you all at my Residence on the occasion of Russia’s National Day. Thanks God for fine weather. Hope you will enjoy the time at our place. Ever since my country embarked upon the path of radical change 30 years ago, we have had a difficult, even painful journey. It was the price of profound transformation of a society, aspiring for freedom and justice. We abandoned any ideology as alien to common sense and real needs of real people. We have been seeing those tough decisions bearing fruit.


26.05.2017 - Ambassador Yakovenko’s address at the RBCC Business Forum (25 May, “BMA House”, London)

It is my pleasure to welcome the participants of the annual Business Forum held under the auspices of the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce. Whatever the political situation, the Chamber has always been successful in its mission to strengthen bilateral trade and economic ties (“Russo-British Chamber of Commerce” was registered on the 23rd of October, 1916, in London as a joint-stock company with the aim “to promote trade between the British and Russian Empires”).


19.05.2017 - Ambassador Yakovenko’s remarks at opening of the "Travels in Holy Russia with the Temple Gallery” exhibition

Dear Ladies and gentlemen, Friends, It’s a real honor for me to be here today at the opening of exhibition of photographs: "Travels in Holy Russia with the Temple Gallery”.


11.05.2017 - The Worshipful Mayor of Southwark speech on Victory Day (May 9 2017, Imperial War Museum)

I welcome you all here today at the Soviet War Memorial as we remember those who gave their lives during the Second World War on the 72nd anniversary of the victory of the allied forces in Europe.


09.05.2017 - Ambassador Yakovenko’s remarks at the wreath-laying ceremony at the Soviet War Memorial (London, 9 May 2017)

Today we honour and remember men and women who fought heroically, sacrificing their lives in the fight against fascism. We also honour all those who selflessly toiled at factories to bring the Victory Day nearer. All those who suffered one way or another, went through all the hardships and tragedies of that war



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