by Fyodor PETROV, Dr. Sc. (History), Chief Research Associate, Department of Written Sources, State Museum of History
Our museum stocks have a great number of precious relics which have never been studied by researchers. For example, in the process of the inventory of immeasurable collections in the custody of our Department of Written Sources we discovered a series of unpublished documents of the Napoleonic epoch. The large archives of the Russian diplomat Prince Alexander Kurakin (1752 - 1818) are of particular interest - they represent unique materials on the history of foreign policy of our country at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, which is full of blind spots.
Alexander Kurakin occupied the highest ladder in the Russian hierarchy (1st class active privy counsellor) and was among close confidants of Emperor Pavel I (reigned in 1796 - 1801) when he was still an heir to the Russian throne. After his enthronement the young monarch appointed Kurakin to the post of vice-chancellor and two years later, when Pavel I declared himself Grand Master of the Malta Order ("Knights of Malta"), he conferred on his favorite a high judicial and administrative rank of this order-bailie.
In 1801, in the beginning of the reign of Alexander I, till the institution of government ministries in 1802, Kurakin headed the Board (Collegium) of Foreign Affairs. Senator, knight of the highest orders of the empire, member of the State Council - he supported the idea of Russian rapprochement with France; that is why he was appointed a tsar's commissioner to sign the Tilsit Peace Treaty*. The "gem" of his archives is a letter of credence signed by Napoleon to conduct relevant negotiations and presented to Kurakin by Charles Talleyrand, Minister of Foreign Affairs of France. A year later prince Kurakin was appointed Russian ambassador to France where he stayed till the Patriotic war of 1812.
Kurakin's fund contains a lot of the tsar's rescripts addressed to the prince, letters of French state officials (including a touching letter from Talleyrand dated 1812 where he regrets that the hostilities between Russia and France compelled him to break diplomatic relations between the two great powers), draft letters of Kurakin to Napoleon Bonaparte. Besides, this notable diplomat carried on correspondence with governors, ministers, ambassadors of Prussia, Saxony, Austria, Britain, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark, and other countries. If these materials are published someday, they will compose 200 volumes.
But let's get back to the end of 18th century. In 1782 Cesarevitch (heir apparent to the throne) Pavel (under the
* The Tilsit Peace-treaties between France and Russia, France and Prussia, signed after the victory of Napoleon's troops in the Russian-Prussian-French war of 1806- 1807. - Ed.
name of Prince Sevemy) and his wife Mariya Fyodorovna traveled across Western Europe and visited Paris where he enchanted the Court of Louis XVI and all of the high society. He was "an opponent of the French Revolution in all its forms", as French historians say today, but admired successful efforts of Napoleon: establishment of the Consulate in 1799 meant an end to anarchy and certain legitimacy. From this moment on till the assassination of the Russian Emperor in 1801 there was a specific period of close relations between Napoleon Bonaparte and the tsar - a romantic, a truly medieval knight on the Russian throne.
Russia tried to restore the longtime friendly relations and trade ties with France even before the enthronement of Pavel. In the Kurakin archives there is a copy of a dispatch addressed to our ambassador in Berlin to start negotiations toward "amity" with France, and, in the long ran, toward a "lasting peace in Europe". An influential group of the tsar's grandees, including Alexander Kurakin, tried to keep Russia off from the ongoing war against Napoleon which could upset internal management and finances.
But secret attempts to open a dialogue with Paris ceased in 1797 owing to the military operations of Napoleon in the Eastern Mediterranean: first, the French captured the Ionic Islands (near the Western coast of the Balkan Peninsula), then sent a war contingent to Egypt, and occupied Malta. Naturally, this fact outraged the Russian emperor who, as mentioned above, was the Grand Master of the Malta Order. The next stage of this expansion could be a capture of Constantinople, the Black Sea Straits, and the Balkans, which would have closed the door to these territories for Russia and endangered the situation in and around the region north of the Black Sea. And then, inspired by a new idea-"to reinstall the crown-bearing rulers toppled by the revolution on their legitimate thrones"-and destroy the "impious regime" in France, Pavel joined Austria, England, Turkey, the Naples Kingdom in an anti-Napoleonic coalition.
Initially, luck wore Napoleon's colors. In 1798 he crossed into the Venetian and Genoa Republics, then, founded the affiliated Liguria, Cisalpine and Parthenon Republics on
the Italian territory. From December 1798 till April 1800 Kurakin received regular reports on the situation in this region from Stefan Sankovsky, the Russian consul in Sardinia. The latter informed the vice chancellor on the arrest of the king of Sardinia, occupation of Piedmont by French troops, their approach to Rome (December 1798), and other happenings.
Britain and Austria did not want Russia to strengthen its positions on the Apennines and decided to move away the Russian troops. On October 9, 1799, Sankovsky informed Kurakin: "All Russian soldiers removed from Italy except for grenadiers under the command of Prince Volkonsky. The great genius-Field Marshal Suvorov - does not lead the army in Italy any more". In the spring of 1800 he reported on the miseries of the Genoese and "hideous atrocities" of the Austrians against the poor local peasants. That is why they, though hating the French, "do not render as good as any help" to their enemies and are eager to restore legal order in their motherland.
The same year Sankovsky described the situation in France: "French are afraid to measure against Russia", but at the same time "le Directoire intended to make a statement to the Emperor that if Russian troops took just one step on its territory, it will be interpreted as a declaration of war on the part of St. Petersburg." Let's mention yet another remarkable message sent by the consul to the vice-chancellor where he cites a speech of General Cerumen "We have vanquished all our enemies, except only one: it is Russia. Relying on harsh discipline, faith in the prejudice that he who falls in battle will go to Heaven, it could defeat Turkish slaves alone ... and hopes to do away with us with as much ease. But we, the French, are a free people and have been carrying off the palm so far, we are more spirited than all the others, and are ready to win or die."
Consul Sankovsky was far-seeing in describing royalists who were not so much popular in France and were not able to restore the Crown: "Only successes of Russian troops and unselfishness of our monarch gave them a glimmer of hope to restore monarchy someday." However, even at that time the French royalists began to speak about the future, as he saw it, sovereign, "king-philanthropist" Louis-Philippe but he ascended the throne only half a century later.
Meanwhile, Pavel's desire to become "a restorer of the shaken thrones and desecrated churches" flew away: he came to realize that he was a cat's paw of Austria and Britain pursuing their own selfish interests. Austria did not want the king of Sardinia to re-ascend the throne and intrigued against Russian troops that came to his relief. According to Kurakin's archives, Alexander I wrote later to Napoleon: "The policy of the Vienna Court toward Russia,
in particular, the obstacles put to the troops of Generalissimo Suvorov, filled up the cup of My August Father..." Relations between Russia and Great Britain were destroyed when the latter captured Malta in September 1800. Napoleon once noted: "Malta is an old bone of contention between England and Russia" and hurried to involve St. Petersburg into a war against London.
Right upon gaining the powers of the First Consul, Napoleon made rapprochement with Russia his priority task, and there is interesting information in Kurakin's archives about this period. Thus, on July 19, 1800, Napoleon charged Talleyrand to inform Count Nikita Panin, head of the Board of Foreign Affairs, about the return to Russia of 6,000 prisoners of war kept in France "without exchange and with full military honors, arms and banners", expressing his "solid respect for Russian troops and a wish to do something pleasant for the Russian emperor". Napoleon sought "to curb the power of England for the sake of Europe's common interest..., to take action that Malta hold out and not fall to the English", and to return it to the Order of Joannites.
Pavel procrastinated and replied only four months later. Finally, Count Fyodor Rostopchin, who succeeded Panin in office, offered the tsar to form an alliance with Paris and share the lands of the Ottoman Porta (Turkey). General Irie Sprengporten, a baron famous for his pro-French sympathies, was to start negotiations. The official target of his mission was to settle problems on the return of Russian prisoners of war. Actually, he was charged to announce the emperor's desire to restore friendly relations with France.
In Berlin the baron met with Marquis Beurnonville, an experienced French diplomat authorized to negotiate with St. Petersburg. The latter said to Sprengporten: our countries "represent kind of two extremities of the earth and were created to rule them". That is to say, he used a characteristic method of Napoleonic diplomacy-to convince representatives of our country that there were only two
powers which should divide the rest of the world. In such cases the stake was on easy-meat rulers, and Pavel I was no exception. According to documents in Kurakin's archives the baron soon met in Paris with Napoleon Bonaparte and he, Napoleon, assured Kurakin: Russia and France "are destined to live in close relationship by virtue of their geographical position alone".
Notwithstanding many controversial matters, in particular, the irrepressible desire of the first consul to reign in the Apennine Peninsula and his disinclination to leave Egypt, the French Republic and imperial Russia came ever closer together. Bonaparte entrusted Talleyrand to agree in general with Russia's demands (as evidenced by documents of Kurakin's archives) and in a letter addressed to him described fantastic plans of joint military campaigns of two countries against Ireland, Brazil, India, Surinam, a landing operation in the Dardanelles, Black Sea, Egypt, not to speak of the Mediterranean...
Soon the negotiations were continued in the personal correspondence of the two rulers, likewise reflected in Kurakin's archives. On December 21, 1800, Napoleon informed Pavel on his wish to conclude "a prompt and inviolable alliance of the two most powerful countries of the world" and move "from the horrors of war to peace". In his reply the emperor first offered Bonaparte to do all possible "to put an end to the evil that has been tearing apart Europe for more than 11 years" and added a phrase which was very uncommon for him: "I do not want to argue about human rights and basic principles established in each country. We should try to return the world to peace that it needs so much". If we translate it into modern language, the phrase means non-interference in internal affairs of states with different social and political systems.
Kurakin's correspondence contains valuable information on the period under consideration, i.e. that of re-establishment of Franco-Russian relationships. By order of the emperor on October 23, 1800, head of the Board of Foreign Affairs Rostopchin declared an embargo on vessels of Great Britain lying in our ports (in revenge for the capture of Malta). On December 4 Russia and Sweden formed an alliance against Britain, which limited freedom of sea-
born trade, and then Prussia and Denmark jointed this alliance. Napoleon gave an order to captains of his ships to help Russian vessels suffering from the hostilities waged by the English and informed the government of our country that he "considers the Republic living in peace with Russia ... and great distance separating our countries shall not become an obstacle to sign a peace agreement". Pavel, in his turn, in February 1801 ordered: "to permit trade relations with that country..., accept letters addressed to France and heretofore received from France bearing on trade only."
Napoleon sent an answer to the Russian sovereign on February 27, 1801, after conclusion of the Luneville peace treaty with Austria. The principal message in his letter-as evidenced by documents of the Kurakin archives-is a proposal concerning various forms of struggle against Britain, where one can even see the outlines of a future continental blockade. Of course, the first consul charmed the Russian tsar by different schemes, in particular, by accession of France, Spain, and Portugal to the above-mentioned alliance of Sweden, Prussia, Denmark, and our country in order to embarrass British trade overseas.
There is a legend that Pavel bent in two the map of Europe and said: "only in this case we (i.e. he and Napoleon) can be friends." But actually Russia was on the point of mounting a military campaign to India. The emperor wanted "to attack the English where the attack could be as telling as possible, and where they could least expect it", and on January 12, 1801, he gave an order to send Don Cossack units to liberate that eastern country from the British yoke. But on the way, near Orenburg, the Cossacks were notified on the assassination of the emperor (on the eve of March 12, 1801) that changed the tide of events.
Kurakin's archives have 17 letters (dated 1801) of Stepan Kolychev, our envoy in Paris, authorized to negotiate a Franco-Russian alliance. First, he was charmed by Napoleon, but soon complained to Rostopchin: "excessive ambition prevails here ever since the weakening of Austria and severance of our relations with England...; the desire to continue war anyplace..." Developing this idea the experienced diplomat informed Kurakin: "the intentions of France to forge closer relations with Russia are far from being sincere; I will never concur with people governing here..., we should not forget that they want to rule everywhere and use us as a tool they are ready to discard after they have reached their targets. They want to conquer the whole Europe with our help and they well understand that it is impossible without our assistance."
Napoleon wanted to conclude a separate peace treaty between our two countries, while Kolychev deemed it his duty to secure peace in Europe; alliance with France, in his opinion, was "of no use to anyone". In his letters Kolychev asked Kurakin to apply to Rostopchin for his transfer to St. Petersburg as "developments in France and Prussia ... do not produce any results". Meanwhile, Talleyrand notified Alexander Kurakin: the fist consul believes that "the form of negotiations proposed by the Russian ambassador does not coincide with friendly intentions between Russia and the French Republic". However, Kolychev's position was later supported by Alexander I: separate alliances were impossible in Europe enveloped in the flames of war-only a general peace treaty was possible.
Preparatory work on drawing up a pact between Russia and France was initiated on March 13 - 15,1801. In accordance with this pact France recognized independence of the Ionic Republic (Republic of Seven Islands); both parties promised not to conclude a separate peace with England but exchange prisoners of war; sea and business relations were to be restored at a prewar level. But other provisions of the future agreement touched off hot disputes. Bonaparte, as promised, was "especially merciful" with respect to the inviolability of the possessions of the
Duke of Wurtemberg and the Kurfurst of Baden as well as those owned by relatives of the Russian imperial house, but there was luck of agreement about other German lands and Italy. Paris also objected to a withdrawal of its troops from Egypt. Finally, Kolychev in his letter to Kurakin justly stated: "Plans of the French government cannot mean general, only short-term peace".
After the assassination of Pavel I romanticism in the foreign policy gave place to realism: the idea of peace all over Europe supported by Pavel's successor Alexander I did not imply a priority partnership with any European power. However, the cautions Russian sovereign followed the policy of his father for some time. The Franco-Russian negotiations continued, as proved by a copy of the tsar's instructions to Duke Arkady Morkov, a new representative of Russia in Paris. The emperor recommended him to act as did Russian embassy in the times of the "old Versailles court", use the relations established between the two countries, follow the system of Yekaterina (Catherine) the Great in the situation of "cabals tearing France", i.e. wait for the "triumph of principles applicable to the current situation".
In the same message Alexander I recognized: after accession to the throne he turned to be "bound by political circumstances, many of which were in conflict with the state interests". He believed that the main thing was "first of all to ensure peace for my empire and tranquility necessary to restore order in different parts of government..." Confident that only an alliance of the two great countries could bring relief to Europe, the young Russian tsar expressed his readiness to negotiate with all states and, "respecting the independence of all peoples, not to participate in discussions on internal body politic".
Alexander I revised his father's policy all through and did not hurry to Napoleon Bonaparte with open arms. He asked the first consul to take all necessary steps to restore "legitimate government" in Italy, first of all, to bring back the kings of Sardinia and Naples to their thrones with an eye to general principles, not ulterior motives. The tsar's instructions to Duke Andrey Razumovsky, the Russian envoy in Vienna, contained in Kurakin's archives, are remarkable in this respect. According to this document, Alexander I pointed out: negotiations with France were necessary, as for Austria and England, "we should not foment Bonaparte's discontent...". The new monarch gave special attention to restoring relations with Great Britain. On June, 1801 the Russian ambassador to London Duke Semyon Vorontsov informed Kurakin: "The destiny of Russia has changed for the better when it received an emperor having qualities of Titus, Trajanus, and Antonius... I share with Your Majesty the joy of possible restoration of the old friendship between Russia and Great Britain." Shortly afterwards our country concluded a sea convention with Britain but showed no intention to enter into agreement against France.
On October 8,1801, Russia and France finally concluded a peace treaty, and three days later Morkov and Talleyrand signed a secret convention which actually sealed the separation of the spheres of influence and joint supervision of affairs in central Europe and southern Italy. Materialization of the Franco-Russian alliance is evidenced by letters to Kurakin written by a new French ambassador in St. Petersburg, General Gabriel Edouville, and Talleyrand.
On September 8, 1802, Russia abolished government collegia (boards), replaced by ministries, and Alexander Kurakin left the vice-chancellor's office. In this connection Edouville expressed his regret: "For the diplomatic corps his courtesy and affability meant very much."
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