On November 22, 1768, Viktor Kochubey, a prominent statesman and diplomat, the founder of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Chairman of the State Council of Russia, was born. He made a significant contribution to the development of the system of governance of the Russian Empire in the <>th century.

Career ladder

Viktor Kochubey came from a well-known Little Russian family of Cossack elders. The exact place of his birth is unknown. According to one of the versions, he was born in the village of Dikanka, in the family estate of the Kochubeys. From childhood, Victor was brought up in the family of his uncle, the state secretary of Catherine II, Alexander Bezborodko, who provided his nephew with an excellent education at home and in the private boarding house de Villeneuve in St. Petersburg.

At the age of eight, Kochubei was enlisted in the Guards, and at fifteen, he was promoted to officer, appointed adjutant to Grigory Potemkin and enlisted in the Russian mission in Sweden with further transfer to the Russian diplomatic mission in England. At the same time, he studied at European universities and got acquainted with various European countries.

"Kochubey's rapid career growth in the late 18th and early 19th centuries was characteristic in its own way. At that time, representatives of several families originating from the western provinces of the empire, including Little Russia, were successfully advancing in the civil service," Denis Shilov, head of the department of the National Library of Russia, said in an interview with RT.

In 1792, Kochubey received his first independent diplomatic appointment as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of Russia in Constantinople. The work was hard. After several Russian-Turkish wars, relations between the official envoy of St. Petersburg and the local elites were strained. Nevertheless, Kochubei successfully carried out the instructions of the government, preventing a Turkish attack on the Holy Roman Empire and negotiating favorable trade tariffs. While in Constantinople, Kochubei corresponded with Grand Duke Alexander Pavlovich (the future Emperor Alexander I), with whom he managed to become friends while in St. Petersburg between diplomatic missions.

Kochubei incurred the wrath of Emperor Paul I when he sent him a note with his vision of the problems on the southern borders of Russia, which did not coincide with the ideas of the head of state. However, the Emperor quickly returned Kochubei to his favor and summoned him to St. Petersburg, appointing him vice-chancellor and acting head of the Collegium of Foreign Affairs.

Kochubei participated in the creation of the anti-French coalition, ensuring the signing of alliance treaties with several European powers. In 1799, Pavel granted Kochubei the title of count, but soon a new quarrel occurred between them. The Tsar suspected that Kochubei was not on his side in disputes within the imperial family, and dismissed the diplomat.

  • Portrait of Victor Kochubey, artist E. I. Botman
  • © Public domain

"There is also a version that Pavel wanted to marry Kochubei to his mistress Anna Lopukhina, but Victor opposed such an alliance and married Maria Vasilchikova without the permission of the tsar. As a result, Pavel's attitude towards Kochubei deteriorated even more," Vitaly Zakharov, a professor at the Moscow State Pedagogical University, said in an interview with RT.

"His contribution to the development of the country can hardly be overestimated"

After his resignation, Kochubey went to the family estate in Dikanka, from which he went to travel around Europe. Having learned about the death of Paul I and the accession of Alexander, Kochubey immediately returned to Russia. In St. Petersburg, he was received very warmly. The new emperor offered his comrade the post of ambassador in Paris, but Kochubei refused, saying that he wanted to continue serving in Russia. Alexander I was pleased with this decision, and soon Kochubei became one of his closest advisers. He was appointed a senator and a member of the emperor's legislative advisory bodies, the Indispensable Council and the Secret Committee.

Kochubei advocated the idea of reforming public life and the system of administration of the empire. He supported the idea of emancipating the peasants while at the same time allocating land to them. Kochubei also advocated a strict separation of powers from various state bodies and the creation of a system of ministries in Russia to govern the country. In his opinion, the principle of collective responsibility of the collegiums should have been replaced by the principle of personal responsibility of the minister.

  • Palace of Viktor Kochubey in Dikanka (on a pre-revolutionary postcard)
  • © Public domain

In 1801, Kochubey received several high appointments at once: a member of the Collegium of Foreign Affairs, the Education Committees of the Novorossiysk and Astrakhan Territories, as well as the State Council. According to historians, work in the foreign policy sphere was no longer of interest to Kochubei and burdened him. But he was very conscientious about his activities in the Collegium of Foreign Affairs and emphasized that a diplomat should be guided exclusively by state interests, and not by personal biases.

On September 20, 1802, a manifesto on the establishment of ministries was promulgated in Russia. Kochubei was appointed Minister of Internal Affairs. According to historians, at that time the sphere of responsibility of this authority was significantly different from today's.

"The functions of the Ministry of Internal Affairs included a very wide range of issues. In fact, the post of head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs was a key position in the government," Vitaly Zakharov said.

The competence of the ministry was dominated by economic functions. It was responsible for the establishment of grocery stores and the provision of food to the population, was in charge of the police and fire brigades, collected information on emergencies, managed state-owned enterprises and mining, ensured the resettlement of peasants to new lands and the construction of roads, and was engaged in everything related to medicine.

As the head of the ministry, Kochubey was engaged in the development of fishing, sheep breeding, beekeeping, winemaking and sugar production in Russia. He also focused on the development of measures to support state-owned enterprises. Foreign migrants moving to Russia came under his control.

  • Kochubey in the portrait of A. G. Venetsianov
  • © Public domain

Kochubey divided the Novorossiysk province into Taurida, Yekaterinoslav and Nikolaev (later Kherson), and the Tobolsk province into Tobolsk and Tomsk proper. In addition, he focused on the development of Odessa.

Kochubei was in charge of the Ministry of Internal Affairs until the autumn of 1807. After the conclusion of the Peace of Tilsit, he negatively assessed the rapprochement between Russia and France and went on an indefinite leave, leaving state affairs. His relationship with the Emperor began to recover only two years later, when he was tasked with finding additional funds for the budget.

At the beginning of 1812, Kochubei headed the Department of Economy of the State Council. After the outbreak of war with France, he was included in the imperial retinue and played an important role in the appointment of Mikhail Kutuzov as commander of the Russian army. After the end of hostilities, Kochubey worked in various government agencies and in 1819 he again headed the Ministry of Internal Affairs, to which all police functions were now transferred.

In 1823, Kochubei left the service due to the serious illness of his daughter and returned to the capital of the empire only three years later. The new Emperor Nicholas I exalted it even more. Kochubey headed the State Council and the Cabinet of Ministers of the Russian Empire. In addition, he was included in several specialized boards and committees.

  • Viktor Kochubey with his wife Maria Vasilievna with their 4 children (collage)
  • © Public domain

"In the system of state administration, Kochubey formally became the second person in the state and one of the most influential people in the country, although he did not have such close personal relations with the new emperor as with Alexander I," Vitaly Zakharov said.

According to historians, at this time, Kochubei began to be less engaged in the implementation of specific projects, focusing on the general administration of the state machine. He died on June 15, 1834 in St. Petersburg.

"Contemporaries assessed Kochubei in different ways: some considered him a very intelligent person, others - just a capable organizer. In any case, a whole epoch in the system of public administration is associated with it. He was one of the creators of the ministerial system and the leaders of the development of new lands annexed to the empire in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In this sense, his contribution to the development of the country can hardly be overestimated," Vitaly Zakharov summed up.