Setting the Record Straight: Dominic Lieven on Russia Against Napoleon

Dominic Lieven wrote Russia Against Napoleon to correct what he saw as a misperception and bias in western perspectives on the war between Napoleonic France and Imperial Russia in 1812-1814. Lieven claims that the standard historical narrative of this war is that Napoleon’s defeat by the allied forces in 1814 was primarily due to: his own mistakes while invading Russia; the unusually severe Russian winter; the Prussian and Austrian military. According to this standard view the military contribution of Imperial Russia and the emperor Alexander were negligible. Lieven believes that this view is incorrect, and is due to an ignorance of Russian sources, an undue focus on the invasion of 1812 (rather than the longer story of the later phases of the war in 1813-14) and the Russians underestimating their contribution for national reasons. While I believe that Lieven overstates the case, there can be no denying that he is right in showing that the Russian military strategy of forcing Napoleon into a long drawn out war was both deliberate and the right response to Napoleon’s strengths and weaknesses. Lieven does downplay Alexander’s weaknesses, but must be correct in saying that he was not the complete incompetent that he has sometimes been portrayed as. I also think that his analysis of the role of Poland in the geopolitical mix is also incorrect – the evidence is that Napoloeon was never interested in a strong independent Poland – and comes with a significant Russian bias – denying the real and significant grievances that the Polish had as well as their wishes for independence.

If you are interested in the Napoleonic wars, or enjoyed Adam Zamoyski’s book 1812, then this is a must read.

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~ by Doug Newdick on February 6, 2011.

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