13 Aug 2012

Cossacks marching on Paris - in peace this time

10:30 am on 13 August 2012

Russian Cossacks on horseback have begun a two-month-long trek to Paris to mark the bicentenary of a key battle Russia fought against Napoleon 200 years ago.

Twenty-three Cossacks will retrace the Russian army's march on Paris between 1812 and 1814, passing through Belarus, Poland, Lithuania, Germany and France on a 2500km journey.

The trek, supported by the Russian government, comes amid a drive to boost Russia's global standing.

In September the country marks the 200th anniversary of the pivotal Battle of Borodino outside Moscow that Russian forces fought against Napoleon in 1812. Although the epic battle was lost by Russia, it greatly weakened Napoleon's army, leading to France's eventual defeat.

The Cossacks have stressed that this time they are coming in peace.

"We are not going to bayonet anyone," says Cossack chief Alexander Kolyakin, adding they would like to "wash their feet in the Seine".

Starting from the Poklonnaya Gora Memorial Park in western Moscow on Monday, the expedition is expected to end in late October at Fontainebleau, where the defeated French emperor famously abdicated in 1814.

Horsebreeder Pavel Moshchalkov, one of the organisers of the expedition, also hopes it will help raise awareness of the dwindling numbers of rare Don horses taking part in the trek.