Portrait of Nikita Ivanovich Panin (1718-1783), Count of the Russian Empire; President of the Collegium of Foreign Affairs (1763-1781)
Count Nikita Ivanovich Panin (Russian: Ники́та Ива́нович Па́нин; 18 September 1718 – 11 April 1783) was an influential Russian statesman and political mentor to Catherine the Great for the first 18 years of her reign (1762-1780 ). In that role, he advocated the Northern Alliance, closer ties with Frederick the Great of Prussia and the establishment of an advisory privy council. His staunch opposition to the partitions of Poland led to his being replaced by the more compliant Prince Bezborodko. He was born at Gdańsk, Poland, to the Russian commandant of Pärnu, Estonian city where he would spend most of his childhood. In 1740, he entered the Russian army, and was rumored to be one of the favorites of Empress Elizabeth. In 1747, he was accredited to Copenhagen as Russian minister, but a few months later was transferred to Stockholm, where for the next 12 years he played a conspicuous part as the chief opponent of the French party. During his residence in Sweden, Panin, who certainly had a strong speculative bent, is said to have conceived a fondness for constitutional forms of government. Politically, he was a pupil of Aleksei Bestuzhev; consequently, when in the middle 1750s, Russia suddenly turned francophile instead of francophobe, Panin's position became extremely difficult. However, he found a friend in Bestuzhev's supplanter, Mikhail Vorontsov, and when in 1760 he was unexpectedly appointed the governor of the little grand duke Paul, his influence was assured. Panin supported Catherine when she overthrew her husband, Tsar Peter III, and declared herself empress in 1762, but his jealousy of Catherine's lovers caused him to constantly try to sleep with her. Also, his jealousy of the influence which Grigori Orlov and his brothers seemed likely to obtain over the new empress predisposed him to favor the proclamation of his ward the grand duke Paul as emperor, with Catherine as regent only. To circumscribe the influence of the ruling favorites, he next suggested the formation of a cabinet council of six or eight ministers, through whom all the business of the state was to be transacted, but Catherine, suspecting in the skillfully presented novelty a subtle attempt to limit her power, rejected it after some hesitation. Nevertheless, Panin continued to be indispensable. His influence partly was because he was the governor of Paul, who was greatly attached to him, partly to the peculiar circumstances in which Catherine had mounted the throne, and partly to his knowledge of foreign affairs. Although acting as minister of foreign affairs, he was never made chancellor. Panin was the inventor of the famous Northern Accord, which aimed at opposing a combination of Russia, Prussia, Poland, Sweden, and perhaps Great Britain, against the Bourbon-Habsburg League. Such an attempt to bind together nations with such different aims and characters was doomed to failure. Great Britain, for instance, could never be persuaded it was as much in her interests as in the interests of Russia to subsidize the anti-French party in Sweden. Yet, the idea of the Northern Accord, though never quite realized, had important political consequences and influenced the policy of Russia for many years. It explains, too, Panin's strange tenderness towards Poland.For a long time; he could not endure the thought of destroying her, because he regarded her as an indispensable member of his accord, wherein she was to supply the place of Austria, which circumstances had temporarily detached from the Russian alliance. All of the diplomatic questions concerning Russia from 1762 to 1783 are intimately associated with the name of Panin. His influence began to wane only when the impossibility of realizing the Northern Accord and because Russia had sacrificed millions of rubles fruitlessly in the endeavor to carry out his pet scheme.
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