Russian President Vladimir Putin paid tribute to Tsar Peter the Great on the 350th anniversary of his birth, drawing a parallel between what he described as their twin historic quests to reclaim Russian lands.
“Peter the Great fought the Great Northern War for 21 years. Looks like he was at war with Sweden, he took something from them. He didn’t take anything from them, he came back [what was Russia’s]“, Putin said Thursday after a visit to an exhibition dedicated to the tsar.
In televised comments on Day 106 of his war in Ukraine, he compared Peter’s campaign to Russia’s current military actions.
“Apparently, it was also our responsibility to come back [what is Russia’s] and strengthen [the country]. And if we proceed from the fact that these fundamental values form the basis of our existence, we will certainly succeed in solving the tasks that face us.
Putin, now in his 23rd year in power, has repeatedly sought to justify Russia’s actions in Ukraine, where its forces have devastated cities, killed thousands and forced millions to flee, by offering a view of history that asserts that Ukraine has no true statehood identity or tradition.
Peter the Great, an autocratic modernizer admired by liberal and conservative Russians, ruled for 43 years and gave his name to a new capital, Saint Petersburg – Putin’s hometown – which he had built on land that conquered to Sweden.
It was a project that cost the lives of tens of thousands of serfs, conscripted as forced laborers to build “Peter’s Window to Europe” in the marshes of the Baltic Sea coast.
Ahead of Putin’s visit to the expo, state television aired a documentary praising Peter the Great as a tough military leader, greatly expanding Russian territory at the expense of Sweden and the Ottoman Empire. with the modernized army and navy he built.
In recent years, Putin’s interest in Russian history has increased during his public appearances.
In April 2020, as Russia entered its first coronavirus lockdown, he caused bewilderment in some quarters when he compared the pandemic to the 9th-century nomadic Turkish invasions of medieval Russia during a televised speech at the nation.
In July 2021, the Kremlin published a nearly 7,000-word essay by Putin, titled “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians,” in which he claimed that Russia and Ukraine were one nation, artificially divided. He laid the groundwork for his troop deployment to Ukraine in February.
Moscow tried to justify its war in Ukraine by saying it was sending troops across the border to disarm and “denazify” its neighbor, a baseless claim.
Ahead of the launch of what Russia calls its “special military operation,” Putin blamed Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the Soviet Union, for creating Ukraine on what Putin called historically Russian territory. , and for having sown the seed of the eventual collapse of the USSR.
In contrast, the Russian leader cautiously praised Joseph Stalin for creating “a tightly centralized and absolutely unitary state”, although he acknowledged the Soviet dictator’s record of “totalitarian” repression.
Putin has a habit of praising leaders who share his own conservative views, including Tsar Alexander III and pre-revolutionary Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin, who both had monuments erected in their honor across the country.
Meanwhile, leaders seen as antithetical to a strong, unitary Russian state – including Lenin and Nikita Khrushchev – have had their contributions downplayed.
“Putin loves leaders whom he sees as tough, strong managers,” said Andrei Kolesnikov, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“He wants to be seen as a Peter [the Great]-style modernizer, although he will go down in history as a cruel ruler more like Ivan the Terrible.