Vladimir Putin compared his invasion of Ukraine to Peter the Great’s imperial war against Sweden three centuries ago.
The Russian president used the 350th anniversary of the famous tsar’s birth to speak clearly about his own aggressive foreign policy.
Referring to the decades-long Great Northern War, Mr Putin claimed that the conflict led by Peter the Great had “returned” territory to Russia, although European countries felt at the time that it had instead been stolen from Sweden.
On some of these captured lands, the Tsar founded his new capital of Saint Petersburg, the city where Mr Putin was born almost exactly 250 years later.
“Apparently, it was also our job to give back (what belongs to Russia) 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 problems that we face,” Putin said on Thursday, alluding to his war in Ukraine.
His comments were broadcast on the 106th day of the invasion, which Russia still euphemistically calls a “special military operation”.
In response to Putin’s remarks, Kyiv criticized the Russian president’s attempt to justify stealing another country’s territory.
“The West must draw a clear red line so that the Kremlin understands the price of every bloody next step…we will brutally liberate our territories,” said Mykhailo Podolyak, one of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s advisers.
Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Mr Putin, obsessed with nationalist history, would have been mistaken if he imagined himself as another Peter the Great.
“He wants to be seen as a Peter [the Great]-modernist in style, although he will go down in history as a cruel ruler more like Ivan the Terrible,” he said.
Russia’s war in Ukraine caused nearly 8 million Ukrainians to flee their country between February 24 and June 2.
At least 4,031 Ukrainian civilians have been killed by Russian shelling and airstrikes, including 261 children, according to the UN. However, the true death toll is believed to be much higher.
International investigators have launched investigations into whether Russian troops have committed war crimes in Ukraine. There have been numerous reports of executions and torture committed by Kremlin soldiers over the past three months.
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