Russia marks victory over Napoleon with 'march on Paris'
MOSCOW - Agence France- Presse
Cossacks ride horses during the ceremonial start of their march from Moscow to Paris at the Poklonnaya Gora war memorial park of Moscow, Russia, 12 August 2012. The march will be the first such trip since the 1812. The march is devoted to the memory of all soldiers killed during the war against Napoleon's army in 1812. EPA/YURI KOCHETKOV
Russian Cossacks on horseback Sunday kicked off a two-month-long peaceful march on Paris to celebrate the bicentenary of victory over Napoleon amid a Kremlin drive to boost Russia's global standing.
Twenty-three Cossacks will retrace the Russian army's march on Paris between 1812 and 1814, passing through Belarus, Poland, Lithuania, Germany and France, part of state-orchestrated festivities to celebrate the anniversary.
Starting from the Poklonnaya Gora Memorial Park in western Moscow, the expedition is expected to end on October 19 at Fontainebleau where the defeated French emperor famously abdicated in 1814.
President Vladimir Putin, who began his third Kremlin term in May, has repeatedly promised to strengthen Russia's might on the world stage and appealed to Russians' patriotic feelings.
In a landmark campaign speech in February, Putin invoked the pivotal 1812 Battle of Borodino outside Moscow that Russia fought against Napoleon. He said Russians had victory written into their "genetic code" and would not allow foreigners to meddle in their country's affairs.
The organisers said the horseback march was in no way a political statement.
"This event should become a symbol of solidarity of the peoples of Europe who are connected through not only economic interests but also a common history and culture," they said in a statement.
Cities along the route of the commemorative horse trek will include the Belarusian capital Minsk, Kaunas in Lithuania, the Polish capital Warsaw, Leipzig in Germany and the French city of Nancy.
The organisers said their residents will be treated to song and dance numbers by the renowned Alexandrov Red Army Chorus and Dance Ensemble and horseback stunts by a team from the Kremlin Equestrian School.
A spokeswoman for the Federal Customs Service which helped organise the event said the expedition was privately funded, with donations coming from companies as well as individuals.
Russia traditionally celebrates its military victories with pomp and grandeur. Its 1612 victory over the Polish occupiers expelled from the Kremlin is still a national holiday.