From the end of the 18th century, the strategic interest of the Villefranche harbour attracted the Russian maritime authorities of the time who anchored there at every conflict with Turkey. A consulate already existed in Nice at that time.

The Russian presence in Villefranche sur mer : a military interest in the first instance

In 1749, Jean-Michel Auda from Nice, became a “commercial adviser” in Russia, and befriended a young sailor by the name of Alexis Orloff (or “Orlov”).  His brother, Grigori Orloff, who later became the favourite of Empress Catherine II, gave him access to high positions within the government, and it was thus that he led the Imperial Russian fleet to call at Villefranche-sur-Mer in 1770.

This base became essential to them when, in the aftermath of the Crimean War in 1856, the Russian Imperial Navy was deprived of its access to the Mediterranean. The Duke of Savoy then agreed to give Russia a permanent right of call at the Lazaret and the Darse de Villefranche, which would allow the Russian fleet to store food and fuel there. The roadstead then became the home port of the imperial nobility on holiday in the states of Savoy. When the county of Nice was attached to France in 1860, Napoleon III confirmed the Russian naval base of Villefranche.

From 1856 onwards, the holiday resorts of the rich Russian wintering people developed, with the arrival of the dowager empress Alexandra Feodorovna (widow of Tsar Nicholas I). To reach the city of Nice from the Villefranche harbour where her frigate anchored, the empress financed the construction of a new road, the existing road being described at the time as “barely passable on horseback”. It was inaugurated in March 1856, and named “Boulevard de l’Impératrice de Russie” (part of which corresponds to what is known today as Boulevard Stalingrad).

In 1893, a team of Russian scientists from Kiev replaced the military to carry out oceanographic research, taking advantage of the presence of an updraft in the harbour. These studies, in spite of the political hazards between the two nations, will continue until the 1930s.