Active relations between France and Russia began after Peter I had visited Paris in 1717
By Vasily Okulov, writer, author of the book Appearance on Demand
Between 1946 and 1974 the population of France increased by 12 million. Of these, 2.4 million were immigrants. These were Germans, Italians, Czechs, Poles and tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Russians. Perhaps it is no coincidence that demographers believe that there is some Slav blood in every eighth, if not sixth, Frenchman. This means that when working in France, you will inevitably meet ethnic Russians and their descendants.
Russian emigration in France till the beginning of the nineteenth century was small, and there is not much information about it. But it is well known that in the late 1040s Princess Anna Yaroslavna of Kiev, who married the French King Henry I, her retinue, servants and 200 young warriors (personally selected by Yaroslav the Wise to protect his daughter) became the first Russian emigrants, albeit involuntary ones.
There is little information of Russia’s relations with France between the twelfth and the seventeenth centuries: contacts were rare due to Russia’s isolation from European countries, the Mongol invasion and feudal fragmentation. In 1518, Grand Prince Vasily III of Moscow and the French King Francis I exchanged diplomatic messages for the first time. And Boris Godunov, after the refusal of secular and spiritual boyars to open a university in Russia, sent boyars’ children to study in France.
Much later, in the 1640s (the Thirty Years’ War), Zaporozhye Cossacks left a good memory of themselves in France. In accordance with the agreement concluded between the Prince of Conde and Bogdan Khmelnitsky, they fought on the side of France against the Spanish Habsburgs. Some of them (wounded, sick, married to French women) remained there. In subsequent years Russia and France exchanged only occasional embassies.
The first official representative of Russia in Paris was (1702–1710) the nobleman Pyotr Postnikov. His job was to translate and publish information about the victories won by Peter I over the Swedes. In 1705 and 1706, the diplomat Andrei Matveyev, Peter I’s relative and associate, travelled to Paris on diplomatic missions. He was received by the king at Versailles. In 1711–1712 Russia was represented in France by the Secretary Grigory Volkov.
Active relations between France and Russia began after Peter I had visited Paris in 1717. At that time Russia was facing an important foreign policy problem: to prevent England from creating an anti-Russian coalition. For this it was necessary to find allies in Europe in the struggle against Sweden and England. In addition to Prussia, only France could become Russia’s ally at that time. And to prevent its rapprochement with England Peter decided to personally negotiate with the Regent of the infant King Louis XV – Philippe II of Orleans, Duke of Chartres.
After the signing of the Amsterdam Treaty, a new diplomatic representative of Russia appeared in Paris – the Minister Plenipotentiary G.Kh. Schleinitz, transferred there from Hanover. But Peter did not trust this foreigner much and soon sent a Guards Lieutenant Count P. I. Musin-Pushkin there, who was to act ‘secretly from Schleinitz’.
After Peter’s visit to Paris, a fashion to travel to France appeared in Russia. It lasted exactly two centuries till 1917. From that time on trips abroad on private matters (holidays, treatment, study, etc.) for Soviet citizens were limited. They went there only with the permission of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks and only ‘on official business.’ The ‘fashion to go to Paris’ was revived in Russia after more than seventy years – in the ‘years of democracy’.
On March 31, 1814, after the defeat of Napoleon’s troops the Russian Army led by Alexander I solemnly marched along the Champs Elysees. Three months later Alexander left Paris, and the Russian occupation corps under the command of M. S. Vorontsov was there until 1818. Some of his soldiers and officers liked the country’s climate, others liked the republican system, and others married there, so they did not return to their homeland.
In the early nineteenth century political emigres appeared in Paris. In 1817, the Moscow Governor F. V. Rostopchin, who had fallen into disgrace, had to go there. A few years later he returned to Russia, but his daughter Sophia, who married the comte de Ségur, remained in France, where she became a famous writer. She had four sons and four daughters. And their descendants still live in Paris under French surnames, but with the prefix ‘Rostopchin’.
In the late 1820s, after the Decembrist Revolt in St Petersburg, people who to one degree or another had been involved in it remained in France. Among them was Nikolai Ivanovich Turgenev, one of the Northern Society of the Decembrists’ organisers. He did not take part in the revolt of 1825 because he had been abroad since 1824. In Russia he was tried in absentia and sentenced to penal servitude for life. In emigration he published a number of projects for the emancipation of the peasants from serfdom. In 1857 he was reinstated, but did not return to Russia.
In 1823, Yakov Nikolaevich Tolstoy – a staff captain of the Guards, an officer of the General Staff and a veteran of the War of 1812 – came to Paris on sick leave. In Paris, he actively engaged in journalism. When the trial of the Decembrists was being prepared, the name of Tolstoy (a former member of the Green Lamp literary group and the Union of Prosperity secret society) turned up in the investigation materials, and he was ordered to return to Russia. He refused, and in 1826 he was dismissed from service, and deprived of his pension and noble privileges.
After the Russian troops had crushed the Polish uprising of 1830, many Polish refugees appeared in Paris, and the French capital became the main centre of anti-Russian sentiment in Europe. In this situation Tolstoy deemed it necessary to defend Russia: he boldly responded to anti-Russian pamphlets that belittled not only the existing government in Russia, but also its history. Having established contact with the Russian Embassy, Tolstoy developed and implemented a plan for publishing positive materials specially prepared in Russia on its foreign and domestic policies in authoritative French newspapers and magazines. Moreover, despite the local police opposition, he took up intelligence work. The modern French historian Michel Cadot considers Tolstoy ‘the spy of the century’. Yakov Nikolayevich worked for the good of Russia till 1866, retiring as Privy Councilor. He died on 15 February, 1867 and was buried in the cemetery of Montmartre.
N. Tkachev, the Narodnik Russian populist movement’s ideologue who published the Tocsin magazine, and P. L. Lavrov, who actively participated in the Paris Commune, lived and worked in Paris as well.
After December 1905, the number of Russian political emigres in Paris was replenished with members of various political parties who had escaped from prisons and places of settlement. In 1907, V.I. Lenin arrived in Paris. At different times Georgy Chicherin and Maxim Litvinov (the future People’s Commissars for Foreign Affairs of the RSFSR and the USSR), along with Vyacheslav Menzhinsky – one of the first heads of the state security services of the Soviet Union – lived there.
On the eve of World War I, over 35,000 Russian subjects were officially registered in France. These were representatives of the propertied classes, scientists, the Sorbonne and other educational institutions students (1600 people), political emigres, professionals, as well as merchants and artisans.
After Germany had declared war on Russia, Russian emigres in France were swept up by a wave of patriotism.
On 21 August, 1914, 9,000 Russians, mostly political emigres, came to the Les Invalides to voluntarily join the French Army. The French enlisted 3,400 people into regular units, among them 600 political emigres. Of these the Russian Volunteer Brigade was formed, which fought as part of the Moroccan Division till 1918. At the same time, some of the political emigres were enlisted in the French Foreign Legion.