Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated former tsar Peter the Great on the 350th anniversary of his birth and drew a parallel between what he depicted as their dual quests to reconquer Russian territory.
"Peter the Great waged the great northern war for 21 years. It would seem that he was at war with Sweden, he took something from them. He did not take anything from them, he returned [what was Russia’s]," Putin said on Thursday after seeing an exhibition dedicated to the tsar.
In an attempt to justify his war in Ukraine, now on its 107th day, Putin compared Peter's campaign with Russia's present-day military endeavours.
"Apparently, it also fell to us to return [what is Russia’s] and strengthen [the country]. And 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," the Russian leader said.
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Putin has now been in power for 23 years. Recently, he has tried justifying Russia's invasion of Ukraine, where Russian troops have destroyed cities, killed thousands, and tortured and raped many – forcing millions of people to flee from their homes. Putin has painted a picture of a shared history between Russia and Ukraine that denies Ukraine's national identity.
Before Putin visited the exhibition, Russian state television showed a documentary celebrating Peter the Great for his military escape in which he expanded Russian territory by conquering lands in Sweden and the Ottoman Empire, while modernising the Russian army and navy.
Putin's interest in history, particularly its expansion, is likely to chill nations bordering Russia. Some Western leaders have warned that Putin will not stop in Ukraine. The Russian leader echoed those fears on Thursday during his tribute to Peter the Great, which seemed to leave the door open to further Russian expansion.
"It is impossible – do you understand? – impossible to build a fence around a country like Russia. And we do not intend to build that fence," Putin said.