Vladimir Putin promoted himself. To the emperor. What sounds like an absurd historical comparison actually reveals the extremely dangerous ambitions of the Kremlin boss.
In his 22 years of rule, the Kremlin chief has repeatedly and impressively demonstrated that Vladimir Putin is capable of acts that many consider unthinkable. His latest feat is impressive nonetheless: he put himself – through the flower, of course – on a par with the famous Tsar Peter the Great.
“Apparently it’s our lot too: to bring them back and strengthen them,” Putin concluded, according to the Interfax news agency, on Thursday immediately after the Russian emperor’s 350th birthday. Just as Tsar Peter did not conquer the area around today’s metropolis of St. Petersburg in the early 18th century, but rather won it back from the Swedes, the invasion of the Ukraine was merely a correction on the map.
As is well known, Putin is not lacking in ambition. His self-ennoblement is, however, a new form of self-love and self-transfiguration. Sure, one could smile at this arrogance – if it weren’t an expression of a dangerous megalomania that is costing thousands of lives and freedom.
Tsar Peter: big man, bigger ambitions
Tsar Peter Alexeyevich (*1672), known as “the Great”, is considered one of the most important figures in Russian history. The more than two meter tall giant was a thorn in the side of the backwardness of his empire, the majority of whose population consisted of poor farmers. Faced with the massive pent-up demand in terms of technology – especially in shipbuilding – Tsar Peter worked for several months as a carpenter in an Amsterdam shipyard and learned from Western engineers and scholars. He must have been a diligent student.
Because during his 42-year reign he not only modernized the administration and economy, but also waged wars in the south and north. When Peter emerged victorious from the “Northern War” after 21 years, the Russian Tsarist Empire had replaced Sweden as a military power in the Baltic Sea region and finally consolidated its claims to leadership in Europe. Because the title Tsar didn’t do justice to the whole thing, Peter called himself Imperator from then on – modeled on the Roman Emperor. Tens of thousands of people are said to have lost their lives for his heart project, the construction of a Russian metropolis on the Baltic Sea. St. Petersburg, today the fourth largest city in Europe, is not named after the emperor, but after his patron saint Peter.
Tsar Peter: a Russian hero then? According to Deutschlandfunk, Electress Sophie von Hanover described him as follows: “This prince has a good heart and very noble feelings, on the one hand he is very kind and on the other hand very evil, as is the case in his country.” At least the second part of this description leads to his supposed brother in spirit.
Putin sees himself as “Tsar for all Russians”
Fiona Hill, former adviser to US President Donald Trump, was quoted by Business Insider as saying in mid-May that Putin sees himself as the “heir to the tsars”. The Kremlin boss feels closer to the absolute rulers of the supposedly glorious past than to the leaders of the USSR. Following the tsarist model, Putin made the system dependent on himself and advanced to become an autocrat, supported solely by the constitution and legitimized by the claims of the people. In fact, hardly any other world power is as closely associated with its head of government as Russia. Putin is Russia and Russia is Putin – that’s the image the Kremlin boss has been working tirelessly on for 22 years, circumventing the law and silencing critics to perfect it.
Just like his great role model, Putin is massively bothered by the insignificance of his empire. Russia may keep the world in suspense militarily. Economically, the largest country in the world is middle class at best. Even Italy has a larger gross domestic product – and that before the geopolitical forced quarantine. Putin wants to leave a legacy, no matter what the price.
When Russia became a tsarist empire in 1547, according to the US magazine “Foreign Policy”, the ruler’s official short title was “Tsar for all Russians”. Everything that opposes this “all-Russian” idea should be sorted out in this concept. Like his historical forerunners, Putin sees his task as ruler as ensuring the unity of the Russian people. But just because a nation sees itself as independent does not mean it is so in the eyes of the power-hungry wishful emperor.
And so the arc stretches to Peter the Great. After his successful (albeit bloody) campaigns – sorry, military special operations – on the Baltic Sea, Russian dignitaries are said to have humbly asked their tsar to use a particularly famous title, as reported by Deutschlandfunk. Perhaps a certain autocrat writes that in his diary every evening. It would sound something like this: “Father of the fatherland, Vladimir the Great, ruler of all Russia”. One will still be allowed to (nightmare) dream.
Sources: “Deutschlandfunk”; “Foreign Policy”; dpa