Catherine II, the butcher of the Polish Commonwealth

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The painting of Aleksander Orlowski portrays the massacre that the troops of Russian General Suvorov committed in one of the suburbs of the Polish capital. The episode known as the Battle of Praga took place during the Kosciuszko Uprising of 1794. The links to the Wikipedia articles have many details, but the overall picture of the events, the reason behind Russia’s invasion of Poland was given by Harvard Professor Richard Pipes in his book “Russia Under the Old Regime“: As is known, Catherine II liked to make use of land grants as a means of consolidating her shaky internal position. During the first decade of her reign (1762-72) she distributed approximately 66,000 serf‘souls. With the First Partition of Poland in 1772, she gained new territories from which to make handouts to favourites: the majority of the 202,000 ‘souls’ whom she distributed between 1773 and 1793 came from areas taken in the First and Second Partitions. This done, Catherine ran out of resources; in 1793 she even had to renege on the promise of gifts made to generals and diplomats who had distinguished themselves in the recent Turkish war. Only after the Third Partition of Poland could these promises be made good. On a single day, 18 August 1795, Catherine handed out over 100,000 ‘souls’, the majority once again in areas taken from Poland. Of the approximately 800,000 male and female serfs of whom Catherine made gifts to dvoriane during her reign, well over half came from territories seized by force of arms from the Polish Commonwealth. We have here clear proof that concealed behind lofty slogans of‘national tasks’ lay the very mundane reality of seizing resources to satisfy Russia’s insatiable appetite for land, and in the process, shoring up the internal position of the monarchy.”

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