Vladimir Putin compares himself to Peter the Great as he issues thinly-veiled threat to Sweden
Putin bragged about "reclaiming" land in Sweden, in a chilling new threat to European security
Vladimir Putin has compared himself to Russian tyrant Peter the Great, in a speech which heightened security threats across Europe.
Speaking on the 350th anniversary of Tsar Peter's birthday, the Russian President bragged about "reclaiming" Sweden.
He referenced the Great Northern War which saw an anti-Sweden coalition, led by Moscow, invade the Swedish empire, establishing Russia as a new imperial power in Europe.
Putin told his audience: "It seemed [Peter] was fighting with Sweden and seizing territories."
The Russian President added: "He wasn't seizing anything! He was taking it back!"
Hinting at another historical reference, this time to the Battle of Narva in modern-day Estonia which opened the war, he said: "Why did he go there? He went there to take it back and to strengthen it, that's what he was doing."
Comparing Peter's exploits to his own efforts in Ukraine, he said: "It has fallen to us to take back and strengthen. And if we take these values as fundamental to our existence, we will prevail in the issues we are facing."
The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania will view the statement as a thinly-veiled threat, worrying he will launch war on them, following his invasion of Ukraine.
Sweden and Finland recently bid to join NATO, which Russia perceived as a threat.
Governments in Stockholm and Helsinki submitted NATO applications after watching Putin disregard security agreements between Ukraine and Russia with his invasion.
They now fear their own agreements with Moscow are meaningless.
The two countries were hoping for a hurried entry into the alliance – granting them the benefit of its mutual defence pledge – but they had been left high and dry after Turkey opposed their bids.
Ukraine were also hoping to become a member state of NATO prior to the attack by Russia, with Putin using their aspirations as ammunition for his attack.
As Putin made his address, Russian warships began training exercises in the Baltic Sea while Finland's President Sauli Niinisto was set to meet with Sweden's King Carl Gustav XVI and Queen Silvia on the lightly-defended island of Åland.
Mr Niinisto, who has close ties with the Russian President, was warned by Putin that he was making a "mistake" by applying to NATO.
The Finnish President abruptly cancelled the meeting and flew home with his wife.
Putin's speech follows the announcement of a military pact with Sweden and Finland that would see the UK assist military aid, in the context of an attack by Russian forces.
Asked whether British troops could be sent to Finland in the event of a Russian invasion, Boris Johnson has said: "Yes, we will come to each other's assistance including with military assistance."