In a speech made three months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, President Vladimir Putin appeared to leave the door open for further Russian territorial expansion.
Paying tribute the founder of St Petersburg, Peter the Great, on the 350th anniversary of his birth, Putin drew parallels between Peter the Great’s founding of St Petersburg and modern-day Russia’s ambitions.
Putin opened the speech by discussing Peter’s conquest of the Baltic coast during Russia’s 18th-century conflict with Sweden.
When Peter founded the new capital, “no European country recognised it as Russia. Everybody recognised it as Sweden,” Putin said. He added: “What was (Peter) doing? Taking back and reinforcing. That’s what he did. And it looks like it fell on us to take back and reinforce as well.”
“It’s impossible — Do you understand? — impossible to build a fence around a country like Russia. And we do not intend to build that fence,” the Russian leader said.
The Baltic nations of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia were invaded and annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940, following Nazi Germany’s betrayal of an agreement with Moscow to divide up the territory between Berlin and Moscow, known as the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.
The countries in the Baltic region, which broke free from the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, are now members of NATO.
As Russian forces continued to pound the eastern Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk in fierce, Putin, in televised comments, compared Peter’s campaign with the task facing Russia today.
Putin, now in his 23rd year in power, has repeatedly sought to justify Russia’s actions in Ukraine, where his forces have devastated cities, killed thousands and put millions of people to flight, by propounding a view of history that asserts Ukraine has no real national identity or tradition of statehood.
Peter the Great, an autocratic moderniser admired by liberal and conservative Russians alike, ruled for 43 years and gave his name to a new capital, St Petersburg – Putin’s hometown – that he ordered built on land he conquered from Sweden.
It was a project that cost the lives of tens of thousands of serfs, conscripted as forced labourers to build Peter’s “window to Europe” in the swamps of the Baltic Sea coast.
Reuters, AP, staff