Vorontsov, Mikhail Semenovich
VORONTSOV, MIKHAIL SEMENOVICH
("Minga") (1782–1856), leading statesman during the reigns of Alexander I and Nicholas I.
Although Mikhail Vorontsov was considered a military hero (his portrait hangs in the Hero's Hall of the Hermitage), mainly for his generalship at the Battle of Borodino (1812) and his command of the Russian occupation army in France (1815–1818), his historical significance is due to his rule as governor-general and viceroy in New Russia and Caucasia from 1823 to 1854. Born a count in an illustrious and wealthy family of imperial servitors, he was awarded the titles of field marshal and most illustrious (Svetleyshy ) prince of the Russian Empire for his service.
Vorontsov was an unshakably loyal servitor to the emperors, yet thanks to his upbringing in England (his father, Semen Vorontsov, was the Russian ambassador) and an excellent education, as well as his high social status and fabulous wealth, in attitude and action he was more Western, liberal, and business-minded than his conservative Russian colleagues. The poet Pushkin out of spite called him "half lord and half merchant." He was one of Russia's largest serf-owners. Although he supported emancipation in principle, he spurned overtures to join the Decembrist plotters, many of whom received their inspiration in France under his command. The serfs, he said, could be freed only when the Emperor decided to do so. Indeed, he was named by Nicholas I to serve on the commission set up in 1826 to investigate the Decembrist conspiracy.
Vorontsov excelled in the field of imperial administration. In New Russia, from its capital Odessa, and in Caucasia from Tbilisi, his government brought vast improvements to the economic life and sheer physical appearance of these southern regions. He attempted, with limited success, to improve the operation of the notoriously corrupt and inefficient imperial bureaucracy. He decentralized decision making in these peripheral territories of the empire, partly by bringing educated locals into the civil service. He also fought constantly, with limited success, for some autonomy from the jealous central ministries in St. Petersburg. He encouraged local businesses. He brought steamboats from England to improve transportation up the rivers and on the Black Sea. He established and supported educational and cultural institutions. He personally supervised the design and construction of parks and public buildings in the major cities.
A bitter opponent of the Crimean War and the unexpected enmity with his beloved England, Vorontsov retired in 1854 in failing health, after a third of a century of service, and died two years later. In an unusual expression of public admiration for Imperial Russia, public subscriptions paid for commemorative statues of him in Odessa and Tbilisi. A beautiful museum dedicated to his good works and lasting memory, currently open to the public, is located in one of his former palaces, the famous Bloor-designed palace in Alupka, not far from Yalta on the "Russian Riviera," the beautiful Crimean coast.
See also: caucasus; decembrist movement and rebellion; nationalities policies, tsarist