Putin in patriotic call at Napoleonic battle memorial
The Battle of Borodino ranks with Stalingrad as the ultimate symbol of Russian defiance in the face of foreign aggression. President Vladimir Putin on Sunday used the 200th anniversary as an impassioned call for Russian patriotism and unity.
More than 3,000 French and Russian actors replayed the Battle of Borodino on Sunday in an event that President Vladimir Putin used to extol the virtues of Russian patriotism.
The reenactment, involving costumed and mounted military enthusiasts, marked the 200th anniversary of a battle between Napoleon’s invading French army and the Russian defenders, some 120 kilometres west of Moscow.
Speaking at the battlefield memorial, Putin made a rousing call for unity “among Russia’s nations”.
His second such speech in five days comes as the Russian leader, first elected for the presidency in 2000, faces unprecedented opposition in major cities as well as a persistent and bloody insurgency in the largely Islamic North Caucasus.
The first ‘Patriotic War’
Tapping in to Russian national pride over Napoleon’s 1812 defeat, as well as the WWII victory over Nazi Germany (which cost an estimated 20 million Russian lives), Putin said: “By and large patriotism, which was the basis for all our major victories, comes down to the unity of the Russian nation.”
Both wars - each one called “Patriotic” in Russian - “were proof of the unparalleled patriotism of our people, who defended our country and guaranteed its role as a great world power,” he added.
Earlier, Putin’s chief of staff encouraged the authorities to mark the anniversary of the battle as an opportunity to expand “the patriotic education of youth”.
Putin had also evoked the memory of Borodino during his ultimately successful presidential campaign last winter.
A disputed victory
Although the battle was not in itself an outright victory for the Russians, Napoleon’s failure to capitalise quickly on Russian disarray, his army’s stretched supply lines, the eventual destruction of Moscow by fire and the brutal Russian winter all set the stage for an unmitigated French disaster.
For most Russians the battle, immortalised in Leo Tolstoy’s epic War and Peace, was a huge victory that ranks with Stalingrad as a symbol of the country’s stubbornness in the face of outside aggression.
France was represented at the memorial by former President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, whom Putin addressed in more conciliatory terms.
“We were more often together than at war and France has always been a strategic ally,” he told the 94-year-old French politician. “I hope we will manage with our friends from France and other European countries to unite Europe on the basis of moral values.”