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

 GS Papers 1

Syllabus: French Revolution, Napoleon’s Invasions


Source: Indian Express

Context: Russia asked French President Emmanuel Macron to remember the fate of Napoleon Bonaparte after he called for Russia’s defeat against Ukraine.


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, which marked the beginning of their alliance.
  • 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.
  • When all the attempts of negotiations failed, Napoleon sent 600,000 of his Grande Armée into


Why did the invasion fail?

  • 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 realized that restocking was a daunting task in Russia because it had a poor road network.
  • Russian soldiers, who adopted “a scorched earth policy of destroying everything possible as they retreated before the French”, made food scarcity worse.
  • As a result, Napoleon’s troops started to suffer from hunger, fatigue and diseases like typhus and diarrhoea.
  • After the Tsar refused to respond to any of Napoleon’s proposed negotiations for weeks, the French emperor begrudgingly ordered his men to return.
  • But the French weren’t prepared to face the bone-chilling cold of Russia and the situation spiralled out of control. When temperatures fell to minus 22 degrees Celsius, the soldiers froze to death.


What happened after the invasion?

  • Napoleon’s failed conquest of Russia united the rest of Europe against him.
  • 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.


Impact of the French Revolution and Napoleon’s policy on India:


French Revolution:

  • The French Revolution had a limited impact on India as India was under British colonial rule at that time.
  • However, some Indians who were exposed to the ideas of the French Revolution were inspired by the concepts of liberty, equality, and fraternity and started to demand these values in India’s own political landscape.


Napoleon’s Policies:

  • Napoleon’s conquest of Egypt in 1798 brought the French into direct contact with India, as India was an important trade partner of Egypt at that time.
  • Napoleon established trade relations with Indian ports and sent emissaries to the court of Tipu Sultan, the ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore in South India.
  • Napoleon’s support for Tipu Sultan against the British in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War (1798-1799) was short-lived, and Tipu Sultan was defeated by the British.


Mains Link: UPSC 2019

Q. Explain how the foundations of the modern world were laid by the American and French Revolutions.