By John Helmer, Moscow
To the Tuileries Palace in Paris on Saturday, January 28, 1809, Napoleon Bonaparte, then France’s Emperor, summoned five of his closest advisors. He had just raced back from the war front in Spain, and wanted to discuss the course of the war and the growing discontent among the French with Napoleon himself.
Accusing Charles-Maurice Talleyrand-Périgord of betrayal, Napoleon launched at him the most famous line of contempt a politician has ever publicly issued to a subordinate. At the time Talleyrand, the foreign minister, was secretly selling his intelligence on Napoleon to the Russian ambassador in Paris. Four years later, in March 1814, when Tsar Alexander I entered Paris with his troops and Napoleon was in temporary retreat on the island of Elba, Talleyrand hosted the tsar overnight at his Paris mansion. They were together as the instrument of the city’s capitulation was being drawn up. Aside, Talleyrand told the tsar’s intelligence chief he was ready to switch sides if paid a much larger stipend than he had taken for his spying to date.
“What are you planning? What do you want?” Napoleon had shouted earlier at Talleyrand. “Tell me, I dare you! I should break you like a piece of glass; you deserve it. I have the power, only I despise you too much to take the trouble. Why haven’t I had you hanged from the Carousel railings? There’s still time. You are a…a…a shit in a silk stocking.”
It’s that last phrase which, more than two hundred years later, still sticks to the name of Talleyrand.
The question still not answered, despite all the evidence of Talleyrand’s career as a betrayer of everyone and everything (except his bank balance) is Napoleon’s own: why did he keep Talleyrand on for so long?
That’s for historians. For today in Moscow the question is: why does President Vladimir Putin keep employing spokesman Dmitry Peskov (lead image, right*) when out of the latter’s negligence, miscalculation and his Talleyrand-sized desire to collect and display wealth, he has caused damage to Russia’s state interests? (more…)