Joseph Stalin sent millions to their deaths during his reign of terror, and his name was taboo for decades, but the dictator is a step closer to rehabilitation after Vladimir Putin openly praised his achievements.
The Prime Minister and former KGB agent used an appearance on national television to give credit to Stalin for making the Soviet Union an industrial superpower, and for defeating Hitler in the Second World War.
In a verdict that will be obediently absorbed by a state bureaucracy long used to taking its cue from above, Mr Putin declared that it was “impossible to make a judgment in general” about the man who presided over the Gulag slave camps.
Mr Putin said “It’s obvious that, from 1924 to 1953, the country that Stalin ruled changed from an agrarian to an industrial society. We remember perfectly well the problems, particularly at the end, with agriculture, the queues for food and such like … but industrialization certainly did take place.
“We won the Great Patriotic War [the Russian name for the Second World War]. Whatever anyone may say, victory was achieved. Even when we consider the losses, nobody can now throw stones at those who planned and led this victory, because if we’d lost the war, the consequences for our country would have been much more catastrophic.”
Mr Medvedev, President of Russia said “Millions of people died as a result of terror and false accusations … But we are still hearing that these enormous sacrifices could be justified by certain ultimate interests of the state. I am convinced that neither the goals of the development of the country, nor its successes or ambitions, should be achieved through human suffering and losses. It is important to prevent any attempts to vindicate, under the pretext of restoring historical justice, those who destroyed their own people.”
Mr Putin answered 80 questions in a broadcast that demonstrated his continuing dominance of politics. Most focused on the economic crisis, and questioners in different parts of the country repeatedly asked Mr Putin to intervene to save their factories from closure. He told one that he had “plenty of time” to decide whether to return to the Kremlin as President at the next election in 2012. When another asked whether he was planning to leave politics, Mr Putin replied: “Don’t hold your breath.”
He said that he and Mr Medvedev could “work together effectively” because they shared the same university background, and values, as graduates of Leningrad State University. Mr Putin had said in September that the two men would “come to an agreement” about which of them would stand in 2012. While Mr Putin was holding court Tsar-like with the nation, Mr Medvedev was in Italy to meet the Pope and re-establish diplomatic relations with the Vatican. Asked if he would stand for a second term, Mr Medvedev replied: “If Putin doesn’t rule out running, neither do I rule myself out.”