Vladimir Putin visited the exhibition in celebration of the 350th anniversary of the birth of Peter the Great, the tsar who at the beginning of the 18th century built Russia’s might.
The Russian president used the occasion to latch onto an interpretation of history by which he is merely recovering Russia’s lost territory.
Commenting on the war Peter fought with Sweden, Putin said that the tsar was not conquering foreign lands but merely returning them to the motherland, as they had for centuries been settled by Slavs — it was a clear allusion to the current war in Ukraine and Putin’s argument that Ukraine is in reality a part of Russia.
This account of history given by Putin is, however, highly questionable. In parts of those lands, the Slavs were always a minority. Furthermore, the main gains from the war against Sweden were places such as Estonia, which was never a part of Russia. Nevertheless, Putin insisted these lands were conquered by Peter the Great but merely reunited with the motherland and consolidated with it.
The allusion to the current war could not be clearer, as he said smiling that “it seems that our destiny is to recover and consolidate.”
These words are bound to unsettle Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, and even the Poles. Eastern Poland was once a part of the Russian Empire, and Poland has for centuries been settled by Slavs. Putin’s smile at the thought of “recovering and consolidating” shows how he sees the war in Ukraine — as a source of joy rather than sorrow over the large numbers of victims.
But then again, we have known for a long time that human life counts for nothing with Putin. We learned that in Chechnya, Georgia, Donbas, Syria, and now Bucha, Irpin, Borodianka, and Mariupol.
Seeing how this delights him, however, is something new.