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Suvorov's disciple who defeated Napoleon. The Presidential Library's materials illustrate the protean talent of Mikhail Kutuzov

16 September 2020

"The strategic outcomes of the Battle of Borodino were great", writes military historian Nikolai Korobkov in the preface to the collection "Kutuzov in 1812". "Because the enemy forces were only halfway broken here, Kutuzov decided to temporarily sacrifice Moscow for the sake of the interests of Russia, turning it into a fatal trap for the enemy. This decision... demanded from the commander much confidence in his resolution, a sense of responsibility for his historical mission. It was more difficult to make this step than give the enemy a battle under the walls of the capital, which was longed by the tsar, society, headquarters and army".

Mikhail Illarionovich Golenishchev-Kutuzov, the future great commander, the victor of Napoleon and a talented diplomat, was born in Saint-Petersburg on September 16 (September 5, old style), 1745 (according to other sources, 1747). The special collection "Patriotic War of 1812" of the Presidential Library pays special attention to the field marshal. It features lots of little-known materials about his life and military victories.

Mikhail Illarionovich's father, a military engineer, lieutenant general and senator, had a great influence on the education and upbringing of his son. Mikhail Kutuzov graduated with honours from the Artillery School for Noblemen. In 1761 he was promoted to warrant officer and was appointed company captain of the Astrakhan Infantry Regiment, headed by colonel Alexander Vasilyevich Suvorov.

"This great combat experience and service in the troops developed his extraordinary military talent. He achieved success working hard as a Russian combat officer, showing exceptional personal courage, discipline and talent. These features of his personality marked his life way", writes Nikolai Korobkov in the "Field Marshal Kutuzov" publication.

In the autumn of 1790, Kutuzov led the corps, participating in the Suvorov assault on the Izmail fortress. The above-mentioned book by Nikolai Korobkov informs: "Suffering heavy losses, Kutuzov asked Suvorov for support. He received the answer that Suvorov had already sent a report on the capture of Izmail to Russia, and Kutuzov was appointed a governor of Izmail. Kutuzov gathered the grenadiers and the jägers and made the third attack on the bastion. His troops made their way to the fortress with bayonets <...> After the assault, Kutuzov wrote to his wife: "I would not see such a thing for a century. It made my hair stand <...> A terrible city is in our hands". It was a comprehensive victory, although "there was no stronger fortress, no more frantic defence than Ishmael. Only once in a lifetime is it possible to launch such an assault", said Suvorov.

Later, Kutuzov asked Suvorov what meant his appointment as a governor in the height of the assault. "Nothing", was the answer. - Kutuzov knows Suvorov, and Suvorov knows Kutuzov. If Izmail had not been taken, Suvorov would have died under its walls as well as Kutuzov", as mentioned in the book "Field Marshal Kutuzov".

After the war with the Turks, Kutuzov, promoted to lieutenant general, was summoned to Petersburg. From this moment on, began a long period of his diplomatic and military-administrative service. Thanks to his intelligence, education, spacious mind and the charming way of treatment, Kutuzov achieved outstanding success in the diplomatic field.

In October 1792, Mikhail Illarionovich was appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Constantinople. "This mission was considered the most difficult because Turkey was the crossroad of the complex contradictory interests of a number of European states", declares the collection "Field Marshal Kutuzov". "Kutuzov had to strengthen Russian hand, reached on the battlefields, with the art of a diplomat".

He coped with the task brilliantly. "The pomp and panoply of the embassy impressed the Turks, and Kutuzov's courtesy and kindness gained him the favour of the Sultan, the vizier and Turkish dignitaries". Kutuzov managed to achieve a lot regarding issues of the Treaty of Jassy, in particular, the right for Russian ships to call in Turkish ports. The ambassador strengthened the authority and influence of the Russian state in the East, and, above all, supplied Suvorov with the most reliable reports to Russia. At a time when some people told the Generalissimo that the Porta supposedly intended to declare war on Russia in three months, Kutuzov wrote to the capital: "...As I feel, I don’t think that the severance is so close <...> The numerous ruined fortresses are not restored at all; navy is not strong yet <...>; disobedience is almost everywhere...". And the forecast came true: "Turkey did not dare to declare war on Russia", says the publication "Field Marshal Kutuzov".

In 1795, Kutuzov was appointed a Chief Commander of all land forces, flotilla and fortresses in Finland, and, at the same time, he used to be the Kazan and Vyatka Governor-general and director of the Imperial Infantry Noble Cadet Corps. Kutuzov did a lot to improve the officers' training. He taught tactics, military history and other disciplines.

From 1806 to 1812, Russia was at war with Turkey. In 1811, Kutuzov surrounded the Turkish army of 70,000 soldiers and moved back the troops of the grand vizier to the Danube. Later, the Commander, using his diplomatic talent, skillfully forced Turks to sign the Bucharest Treaty, beneficial to Russia. Turkey was not considered as an enemy of Russia at a crucial moment in the outbreak of the war with Napoleon. According to the Bucharest Treaty, Bessarabia was liberated from the Turkish yoke and entered the Russian state. The Turks were completely defeated in Serbia and Bulgaria.

It was a major military and diplomatic victory that significantly improved the political and strategic situation before the beginning of the Patriotic War of 1812. At this time, Napoleon was already the ruler of Europe. Defeated Prussia lay at his feet. Austria was in alliance with him. The French emperor made plans to conquer world domination. "In five years I will be master of the world; Russia alone will remain, but I will overwhelm it", said Napoleon in 1811.

At the beginning of the campaign of 1812 against French troops, Kutuzov was in Petersburg as Commander of the Narva Corps, then led the Petersburg Militia. On August 8 (20), 1812, Alexander I appointed him a Chief Commander of the 1st and 2nd united armies.

"One of the relatives asked Kutuzov when he was preparing to depart for the army in 1812: "Uncle, do you really hope to defeat Napoleon?" - he replied: "Defeat? No! But I hope to deceive", - says the author of books on military history Esper Zhelyabuzhsky in the essay "The Patriotic War of 1812 and Kutuzov''.

After the Battle of Borodino, Kutuzov managed to demoralize the French enemy, who could not bear partisans, frost and hunger. "During the war, the aim of Kutuzov's actions remained unclear for the victor of Europe; even the Russian generals did not understand this simple and ingenious plan, which promoted the retreat as the beginning of the victory way", - notes the publication "Kutuzov in 1812". Responding to the peace proposal by Lauriston, Kutuzov calmly answered: "You are playing, Mr Marshal. Have you forgotten that our business for a long time is a retreat? It is only the beginning of the war for us".

The same edition says: "The figures prove the correctness of the Kutuzov's calculations: the army of Napoleon after Moscow estimated 100-thousand people, after Dorogobuzh - only 50 thousand, and after Smolensk - barely 36 thousand. The disorganized army units in the rearward became the victim of the partisans. When the frosts arose - the last factor considered by Kutuzov - only a small part of the "great army" survived. It was destined to outlive the last fears of this retreat".