The comparison may sound strange to western ears: Russia’s ruler Vladimir Putin compared himself to Peter the Great at a meeting with young entrepreneurs on Thursday. The Russian tsar – just like Putin now – carried out a return operation of Russian soil.

In the Great Northern War (1700 to 1721), the Russian tsar did not conquer the area around today’s metropolis of St. Petersburg from the Swedes, but rather won it back. The same applies to today’s Estonian city of Narva, which the tsar occupied in the first years of the war and later incorporated into the Russian Empire. Today, Narva, with around 60,000 inhabitants, is an important industrial city and the center of Estonia’s Russian-speaking minority.

“Apparently it is also our lot: to bring back and strengthen,” said Putin on the tsar’s 350th birthday in Moscow. You can take that as a direct threat.

Also explosive: The allusion to the conquest of Narva comes just one day after the Putin hardliner and Russian MP Yevgeny Fyodorov introduced a bill in the Duma to revoke the independence of neighboring Lithuania. In his opinion, the recognition of independence by the former Soviet Union was illegal, reports the “Spiegel”. Both Estonia and Lithuania are NATO members.

The words of the Russian politicians are likely to worry the Baltic and Eastern European countries in particular. “[Russia’s] next target could be the Baltic states, Poland, Finland or other countries on the eastern flank,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told the newspapers of the Funke media group a few days after the start of the invasion of Ukraine.

Its President Volodomyr Zelenskyj declared in March: “If we are gone, God forbid, then Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia will be next.”

More on the Ukraine war at Tagesspiegel Plus:

Putin justified the war against Ukraine with the oppression of the Russian-speaking population in the country. “Der Spiegel” reports that Yevgeny Fyodorov, the member of the Duma who is loyal to Putin, justified his move to Lithuania in a similar way in an interview with the Russian daily newspaper “Komsomolskaya Pravda”: “They (Lithuanians) keep people in prison for years for political reasons .”

When asked why he was targeting Lithuania – and not the other two Baltic states – he replied that the country was “a priority for us”. The reason is the direct border with the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.