Putin’s fondness for Peter the Great is well known, but he now appears to have beliefs about his own greatness.
Vladimir Putin the Great, has explicitly compared himself to the Russian Tsar Peter the Great, connecting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine today with Peter’s expansionist battles three centuries ago and admitting that his current war is a land grab in his most straightforward statement yet.
Mr. Putin’s apparent empire-building ambitions are bad news for Ukraine, and his words have enraged other neighbors, notably Estonia, which termed them “absolutely unacceptable.”
When the remarks were delivered, Russia’s president was meeting with young scientists and entrepreneurs. Before discussing IT and tech development, he discussed politics and power, namely the emerging war for geopolitical domination that he envisions. He told his small audience that Peter the Great was a role model in that speech.
“You may believe he was battling with Sweden, capturing their territory,” Mr. Putin remarked, alluding to Peter’s Northern Wars, which he began as he created a new Russian Empire at the turn of the 18th century.
“But he didn’t seize anything; he regained it!” he said, pointing out that Slavs had resided in the area for generations.
Mr. Putin said, “It appears it has fallen to us, too, to retake and strengthen,” with a near-smirk that made it clear he was alluding to Ukraine and his goals there.
He claimed that Peter’s authority was proof that Russia had grown stronger as a result of its expansion.
Mr. Putin has been mentioning Russia’s past a lot lately, and it’s always been carefully selected to fit his current cause. He wrote a massive essay some months before launching his attack on Ukraine in which he essentially argued against the country’s historical right to exist.
When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Putin falsely stated that the invasion was a “special operation” limited to the eastern Donbas region in order to “de-Nazify” Ukraine and diminish the perceived threat to Russia.
However, his troops were pushing on Kyiv and bombing terrain much further west as he spoke those comments. More than 100 days later, a fifth of Ukraine’s territory is under Russian military control, with puppet governments threatening referendums on Russian membership.
Putin is finally willing to concede that his “operation” is, in reality, an occupation.
He also appears to assume that the West will eventually recognize the reality that his men are attempting to establish on the ground.
Mr. Putin claimed that at the time, “not a single European country” recognized Russia’s claim to the area where Peter established St Petersburg as Russia’s bright new capital. They’re all doing it now.
His remarks have also caused consternation in the Baltic states. The Estonian foreign ministry summoned the Russian ambassador to denounce his characterization of Peter the Great’s assault on Narva, which is now part of Estonia, as Russia “reclaiming and strengthening” its territory.
Putin is selective in his use of history.
Though a brutal autocrat, Peter the Great was a significant admirer of Western ideas, science, and culture, notably constructing St Petersburg as a “window on Europe” and traveling the continent searching for knowledge to aid Russia’s modernization.
Putin’s increasingly oppressive government is gradually closing that window to the West, and the war in Ukraine has slammed it shut completely. The concept of a Russian leader visiting Holland or Greenwich in search of ideas and inspiration suddenly seems implausible as the Tsar did in the past.
A sequence of words flashed behind them as Putin lectured the young entrepreneurs on an 18th-century Tsar: ‘future,’ ‘confident,’ and ‘win.’
In the face of Western condemnation and sanctions, Russia is keen to display defiance, and Putin himself appeared calm rather than threatened.
However, history may have taught us something else.
Even though Peter the Great eventually conquered the country from the Baltics to the Black Sea. Russia had been fighting its Great Northern War for 21 years. Today, the death toll for Putin’s ambitions could be much higher and much more devastating.
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