Three hundred years ago today our country celebrated the proclamation of the Russian Empire as it succeeded the Tsardom of Russia which had won the Northern War and gained access to the Baltic Sea. The crucial annexation of Ingria, Esthonia, Livonia, and other lands near Russia's new capital St. Petersburg enabled it to “open a window to Europe” and become an empire.
In Northern War battles, the Russian troops had crushed the resistance of the Swedish fortresses of Nyenschanz, Nöteborg, and Landskrona, seizing territories along the Neva by April 1703. Peter I was obsessed with the idea of turning Russia into a maritime power. So, the new city of St. Petersburg was founded on May 27, 1703 next to the Nyenshants and Landskrona fortresses which had been burned down by the retreating Swedes. Later on, it became the Russian port on the Baltic Sea.
Historically, Arkhangelsk had been the only commercial port linking Russia with Europe before the Northern War. However, it was located on the cold White Sea which froze for several months. By the way, the newly conquered lands were not entirely new to Russia since Karelia and Ingria had been lost in the Time of Troubles after being transferred to Sweden under the terms of the Treaty of Stolbovo signed in 1617.
According to Alexei Ruchkin, head of the Department of History and World Culture at the Center for Teaching Excellence school, Russia’s attempts to reach the seas were “inevitable and necessary,” as this solved several economic or trade issues that had emerged in the days of the Old Russian state. Moreover, the problem of reaching the seas cannot be considered separately from another important foreign policy issue, namely the return of lands that were once part of the Kievan Rus', says Ruchkin,
“So, all this helped Russia strengthen its role in the international arena,” he says.
After the end of the Northern War which lasted from 1700 to 1721, the senators asked Peter I to accept the titles of Peter the Great, Emperor of All Russia, and Father of the Fatherland, during a large-scale celebration.
The transformation of the tsardom into an empire sent a quite specific political signal. Russia declared its readiness to actively participate in pan-European affairs as a permanent key role player from that moment on. That is, it had outgrown its self-isolation and “exceptional identity.” Peter I reformed the army, created a powerful modern navy, opened modern educational institutions, and encouraged the development of science, trade, and industry. However, the reforms relied on the oppressive government, harder serf labour, extortions, impoverishment of the population, as well as the recruiting duty, which was a heavy burden on the peasants.
The Russian Empire made it into history as the third-largest state that ever existed after the British and Mongolian empires. It formally ceased to exist after the February Revolution of 1917. Back then the last emperor Nicholas II abdicated the throne and a republic was proclaimed, but the emerging Soviet Union looked a lot like the Russian Empire.
Is it now possible to revive the Russian Empire in one way or another? Are the reunification of Crimea with Russia, the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the emergence of the DPR and LPR, etc., the signs of this revival?
“Such a revival is inevitable,” head of the Political Information Center Alexei Mukhin told wek.ru. “There are integration processes underway in the post-Soviet space, including “land-gathering.” This process was initiated when Russia proclaimed its national sovereignty in a declaration in 2007 and cemented it in constitutional amendments last year. That is, these integration processes have already been launched.”
Mukhin believes that the reunification with Crimea and “all the rest” are the consequence of the processes that were launched in Vladimir Putin's Munich speech of 2007, and which “were finalized” in 2020 with the changes to the Russian constitution.
First of all, we are talking about a successful model for the existence of a nation-state, he says.
“There is a choice at this stage,” says Mukhin, “either the former Soviet republics fall under the Chinese and U.S. influence or they further fall under the Russian influence. Unfortunately, an independent existence, which they have dreamed of since 1991, is not possible for them. The success of the model is determined by how attractive it is to other nation-states. What is the current tragedy of the United States? They have lost this attractive model.
According to Mukhin, if Russia can maintain its current successful model and stand its ground in the confrontation with the collective West, then other countries, formerly part of the USSR, might change their strategic preferences, and the integration project might become very attractive for them.