In defence of Potemkin

Cristina Odone, in her witty column "Tony the Great has his own scheming Potemkin" (30 October), spots the "breathtaking parallels" between the favourite at the court of Catherine the Great, Potemkin, and the favourite at the court of Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson. But her comparisons are deeply unjust to the Russian general. Potemkin never built any fake "Potemkin villages" - it was a historical libel. His enemies claimed he falsified his achievements, but there is no proof that he did; although I believe, in his 1787 junket to show the south to Catherine and the Austrian Emperor Joseph II (described by Odone), Potemkin may have invented the modern political spectacle.

Far from being an ephemeral, sinister spin-doctor, Potemkin was one of Russia's greatest statesmen, in a class with Peter the Great and Catherine. He won the Black Sea and Crimea for Russia, established the Black Sea Fleet and founded cities from Odessa to Sebastopol.

Simon Sebag Montefiore
Dummer Village, Hampshire