As Russian President Vladimir Putin ramps up his brutal attack on Ukraine, he’s likened himself to Tsar Peter the Great, who waged war on Sweden in the 18th-century, claiming that like his predecessor, he too is reclaiming Russian land.
“Peter the Great waged the Great Northern War for 21 years. […] He did not take anything from them, he returned [what was Russia’s],”Putin said, after visiting an exhibition on the 350th birthday of the 18th century leader. “Apparently, it also fell to us to return [what is Russia’s] and strengthen [the country]”, he added, in televised comments.
Where Putin had earlier pushed the narrative that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a “special military operation” aimed at deposing a government he deemed a threat for wanting to join Nato, his recent comments imply that the war is also about expanding Russia’s territory. Although Putin has not said explicitly that he wants to invade other countries, this idea of harkening back to a time of empire building was decried by US Ambassador Thomas Greenfield during a UN Security Council meeting back in February, as Russian troops lined Ukraine’s borders and prepared for war.
This Statista chart shows just how far the Russian Empire stretched back in 1914, with today’s states of Ukraine, Belarus, Finland, Georgia, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania all falling within the national borders. Parts of Poland (including Warsaw) and today’s Turkey also belonged to it. The borders of the Russian Empire shown in the infographic are based on a representation from the German ‘Großen Historischen Weltatlas’, which shows the political map of the world around 1914.
Putin’s comments came on the 106th day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. According to the UN human rights office (OHCHR), 4,000 people have been killed, including nearly 200 children, since the start of the war, although the true number is thought to be far higher. Putin has repeatedly tried to undermine Ukraine’s position of statehood, claiming it has no real national identity, in order to try and delegitimize its government and justify the invasion.