Hailing Peter the Great, Putin draws parallel with mission to ‘return’ Russian lands  

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Russian President Vladimir Putin paid tribute on Thursday to Tsar Peter the Great on the 350th anniversary of his birth, drawing a parallel between what he portrayed as their twin historic quests to win back Russian lands. “Peter the Great waged the Great Northern War for 21 years. It would seem that he was at war with Sweden, he took something from them. He did not take anything from them, he returned (what was Russia’s),” Putin said after visiting an exhibition dedicated to the tsar. In televised comments on day 106 of his war in Ukraine, he compared Peter’s campaign with the task facing Russia today. “Apparently, it also fell to us to return (what is Russia’s) and strengthen (the country). And if we proceed from the fact that these basic values form the basis of our existence, we will certainly succeed in solving the tasks that we face.” 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 modernizer 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 laborers to build Peter’s “window to Europe” in the swamps of the Baltic Sea coast. Prior to Putin’s visit to the exhibition, 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.

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