Vladimir Putin has compared his actions in Ukraine to Russian tsar Peter the Great’s conquest of the Baltic coast during his 18th-century war against Sweden.
After marking Peter the Great’s 350th birthday on Thursday with a visit to a museum, Putin told a group of young entrepreneurs in Saint Petersburg, “you get the impression that by fighting Sweden he was grabbing something. He wasn’t taking anything, he was taking it back.”
In comments that were later televised, Putin compared his offensive in Ukraine with Peter the Great’s campaign to expand the Russian Empire.
“Apparently, it also fell to us to return [what is Russia’s] and strengthen [the country],” said the Russian leader.
“If we proceed from the fact that these basic values form the basis of our existence, we will certainly succeed in solving the tasks that we face.”
According to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Putin “greatly appreciates” the role the tsar played in Russian history.
Putin also noted that when Peter the Great founded Saint Petersburg “none of the countries in Europe recognised this territory as belonging to Russia”.
The city, Russia’s second-largest, was established in 1703. It remained the capital of the Russian Empire for more than two hundred years until the Russian revolution of 1917.
“Peter the Great waged the Great Northern War for 21 years,” Putin said. When “he was at war with Sweden, he took something from them. He did not take anything from them, he returned [what was Russia’s].
The Great Northern War was a conflict between the Russian and Swedish empires between 1700 – 1721.
In coalition with Denmark, Norway and Lithuania, the Tsar successfully challenged Sweden’s dominance in northern, central and eastern Europe.
Putin continued: “It is our responsibility also to take back and strengthen. Yes, there have been times in our country’s history when we have been forced to retreat, but only to regain our strength and move forward.”
By defeating Sweden in the Great Northern War (1700-1721), Peter the Great made Russia a leading regional power and an important player in European affairs.
He was also a modernising, Europe-looking leader who drew inspiration from the west to develop Russia’s army, state, church and society.
He was convinced of the need to reform after a trip to Europe, which made him aware of his empire’s limited development.
Peter the Great’s shift toward Europe still has an important legacy in Russia today.
However, amid heightened animosity between the West and Russia over the Ukraine invasion, Moscow has downplayed Peter’s affinity with Europe and focused on his territorial expansionism.
“Peter the Great can be an emblematic figure for supporters of European-style liberalism as well as for supporters of a strong state,” historian Daniil Kotsubinski told AFP.
He reigned first as tsar and then as emperor from 1682 until his death in 1725.