Potemkin, Grigorii Aleksandrovich
Born Sept. 13 (24), 1739, in the village of Chizhovo, Dukhovshchina District, now in Smolensk Oblast; died Oct. 5 (16), 1791, near the city of Ia§i. Russian statesman and military figure, diplomat, field marshal (1784). Son of an officer.
Potemkin enlisted in the guards in 1755. He entered the Gymnasium of Moscow University in 1756, and in 1760 he was expelled. For his participation in the 1762 palace coup that brought Catherine II to the throne, Potemkin received the rank of sublieutenant of the guards. In 1767 he participated in the work of the Ulozhenie (law code) Commissions. For distinguished service in the Russo-Turkish War of 1768–74 he was made a general. After his relations with Catherine II assumed a more intimate character in 1770, he was appointed vice-president of the Military Collegium, given the title of count, made adjutant general (1774), and appointed chief of the irregular forces.
As Catherine II’s favorite and with his high position at court and in the state apparatus, Potemkin became the most powerful man in the country. Proving himself a talented administrator, he served as Catherine II’s closest assistant in carrying out a policy of consolidation of the absolutist state. In 1774 he organized punitive measures against E. I. Pugachev. In 1775, on his intiative, the Zaporozh’e Sech’ was eliminated as a potential center for a new mass uprising. He was made governor-general of Novorossiisk, Azov, and Astrakhan provinces in 1776. In the same year, Joseph II gave him the title of prince of the Holy Roman Empire.
In 1783, Potemkin succeeded in carrying out his plan to unite the Crimea with Russia, for which he received the title prince of the Tauride. He promoted the development of the northern Prichernomor’e (Black Sea region) and the construction there of Kherson, Nikolaev, Sevastopol’, and Ekaterinoslav. Under his leadership, the construction of the Black Sea naval and merchant fleets was carried out. In 1784 he was appointed president of the Military Collegium. During the Russo-Turkish War of 1787–91 he was an army commander, but he lacked the talent of a military leader and succeeded only in hindering A. V. Suvorov’s operations. When Potemkin became seriously ill and died, the Russo-Turkish peace talks in Ia§i were suspended.
In his rapid rise to power and subsequent glittering career, Potemkin sought not only to satisfy his vanity and enrich himself —he was one of the country’s wealthiest dignitaries—but also to strengthen Russia’s international position and to develop its economy.
REFERENCESBrikner, A. G. Potemkin. St. Petersburg, 1891.
“Bumagi kn. G. A. Potemkina-Tavricheskogo, 1774–1788.” Sb. voennoistoricheskikh materialov, issues 6–8. St. Petersburg, 1893–95.
Druzhinina, E. I. Severnoe Prichemomor’e ν 1775–1800 gg. Moscow, 1959.
R. V. OVCHINNIKOV