Of course, context is key. No actions of any past leader can be directly applied to situations in the world today.
It is worrying, therefore, to see President Putin cite former Russian Czar Peter the Great and his conquests as direct motivations for his invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking at an event in Moscow to mark the Czar’s 350th birthday, he argued Peter the Great’s expansionist exploits were just and right. The Great Northern War, in which Russia captured swathes of Swedish territory, was merely his nation acting to take back land previously belonging to the Russian empire.
As Peter the Great did to Sweden, Putin says about Ukraine ‘it is now also our responsibility to return (Russian) land’.
It is hugely worrying and reveals more about his motivations for invading Ukraine. Putin has made similar remarks about trying to restore a Russia that existed in the past. Famously he declared that ‘the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century’.
In a 7,000-word rambling essay published last year, he said “I am confident that true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia. For we are one people.”When Putin draws from Peter the Great’s conquests as justification for the present, we must reply in unison that Ukraine’s right to sovereignty and democracy trump his dreams of restoring a Russia of the past.