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Moscow reminds French Prez Emmanuel Macron of Napoleon’s failed Russian invasion : What’s the history?

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Moscow reminds French Prez Emmanuel Macron of Napoleon’s failed Russian invasion : What’s the history?

Context- Russia asked French President Emmanuel Macron to remember the fate of Napoleon Bonaparte, after he called for Russia’s defeat against Ukraine on Sunday (February 19). It also accused the president of being duplicitous in his diplomacy with Moscow, France 24 reported.

(Credits- Encyclopedia Britannica)

Why did France invade Russia under Napoleon?

  • After winning the battle of Friedland in 1807, Napoleon signed the Treaties of Tilsit with Russia’s Tsar Alexander I. It marked the beginning of an alliance between the two empires as they agreed to help each other in disputes.
  • Notably, the Russians also accepted to become part of Napoleon’s Continental Blockade, which prohibited both neutral parties and French allies from trading with Great Britain.
  • However, this caused severe damage to the Russian economy, forcing the Tsar to break the agreement in 1810 and start trading with Britain openly, much to France’s displeasure.
  • Tensions escalated quickly and when all the attempts of negotiations failed. In June 1812, Napoleon sent 600,000 of his Grande Armée into Russia.

Why did the invasion not succeed?

  • The French emperor’s plan was to bring the battle to a conclusion within 20 days. He famously said, “I know Alexander…Perhaps he will yield at the sole sight of the Grande Armée. If not,…let Russia be crushed under my hatred of England.”
  • According to Robert Burnham, author of ‘The British Army Against Napoleon: Facts, Lists and Trivia, 1805-1815’, to win the warfare, Napoleon relied on his tried and tested method of moving his men to key positions and then destroying his enemy as soon as possible.
  • But when the Grande Armée reached the Russian territory, the Tsar’s army retreated into the interior regions, compelling the French to cover much longer distances than expected.
  • This led to a shortage of food and other supplies. Napoleon’s military strategists also realised that restocking was a daunting task in Russia because it had a poor road network.
  • Moreover, food scarcity was made worse by Russian soldiers, who adopted “a scorched earth policy of destroying everything possible as they retreated before the French”, Burnham said.
  • As a result, Napoleon’s troops started to suffer from hunger, fatigue and diseases like typhus and diarrhoea. By the time they captured Moscow, in September, over 200,000 French soldiers were either dead or hospitalised due to disease and exhaustion.
  • After the Tsar refused to respond to any of Napoleon’s proposed negotiations for weeks, the French emperor begrudgingly ordered his men to return. The retreat started in mid-October but the French weren’t prepared to face the bone-chilling cold of Russia and the situation spiraled out of control.
  • When temperatures fell to minus 22 degrees Celsius, the soldiers froze to death. Thousands of horses died and food ran out. Troops fought among themselves over the horseflesh.

What happened after the invasion?

  • Napoleon’s failed conquest of Russia united the rest of Europe against him. In 1813, Austria, Prussia, Russia, Spain, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Sweden and a number of German states joined their forces and went to war against France.
  • Known as the War of the Sixth Coalition, the battle concluded with the defeat of Napoleon, who then went into exile.
  • He briefly returned to power in France in 1815 but had to abdicate his throne for the second time after he lost the Battle of Waterloo during the War of the Seventh Coalition. Napoleon was exiled to the remote island of Saint Helena in the Atlantic, where he died in 1821. He was 51 years old.

What has Macron said about Russia in the ongoing war?

  • France has at times been criticized by those in the West for its position. While it condemned Russian action and provided weapons to Ukraine, it has not always participated in efforts in the war as decidedly as its allies want it to.
  • In an interview with French TV station TF1 last December, Macron said “We must not humiliate Russia so that the day when the fighting stops we can build an exit ramp through diplomatic means…I am convinced that it is France’s role to be a mediating power.”

Way Forward- War in Ukraine is slowly turning into an attrition phase where each side will try to wear out the other. Dialogue and Diplomacy need to be prioritized, not warmongering.

Source- Indian Express

NEWS- Moscow reminds French Prez Emmanuel Macron of Napoleon’s failed Russian invasion : What’s the history?

Syllabus- GS-1; World History

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