Russian President Vladimir Putin compared the war against Ukraine to Peter the Great’s conquest during the 18th century as the Russian leader on June 9 paid tribute to the tsar on the 350th anniversary of his birth.

Putin spoke of his country’s need to “take back” territory and “defend itself” after visiting an exhibition in Moscow dedicated to the tsar and drew parallels between Peter the Great’s founding of St. Petersburg in 1703 and modern-day Russia’s ambitions.

When Peter founded the new capital, “no European country recognized it as Russia. Everybody recognized it as Sweden,” Putin said. “What was (Peter) doing? Taking back and reinforcing. That’s what he did. And it looks like it fell on us to take back and reinforce, as well.”

In televised comments on day 106 of his war in Ukraine, he added: “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 also appeared to support the further territorial expansion of Russia, saying it is “impossible to build a fence around a country like Russia. And we do not intend to build that fence.”

A senior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy dismissed the comments and what he called any attempt to legalize the theft of land.

“The West must draw a clear red line so the Kremlin understands the price of each next bloody step…We will brutally liberate our territories,” Mykhailo Podolyak said.

Putin has sought to justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by asserting that Ukraine has no real national identity or tradition of statehood, while Moscow says it acted to disarm and “denazify” Ukraine.

In July 2021, the Kremlin published a long essay by Putin in which he argued that Russia and Ukraine were one nation, artificially divided.