March 01, 2006

Alexander II sets the course

March 18, 1856

This was an odd day in Russian history. In Moscow, Tsar Alexander II was speaking before the Moscow nobility on one matter, while, at the other end of Europe quite another matter was being resolved. There, the Treaty of Paris was being signed – the agreement that brought the Crimean War to a close. The date of the signing, (March 30, according to the Gregorian calendar, or March 18 according to the Julian calendar still used in Russia), underscored the humiliating position Russia had fallen into. Not so long before, in 1814, the day had marked Russia’s triumphant entry into Paris after defeating Napoleon.

But now, Napoleon III, nephew of the great emperor, had forced Russian diplomats to recognize their shameful defeat in the Crimean War. It is unlikely that the representatives of the Moscow nobility meeting with Alexander II knew what was happening on that day in Paris. But everyone knew that the war was over and that Russia had been vanquished.

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