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President Vladimir Putin on Thursday denied the existence of any elements of Stalinism under his rule but warned there needed to be "order and discipline" in modern Russia.
"I do not see any elements of Stalinism here," Putin said in his annual question-and-answer session with Russians amid growing criticism from activists over a crackdown on civil society.
"Stalinism is linked to the cult of personality, mass violations of the law, repressions and camps." But he added: "This does not mean that we should not have order and discipline."
Putin insisted that present-day Russia could not be compared with the Stalin era, however, saying that now there are no political prisoners.
"People are punished for breaking laws or breaching the rights of other people," he said, citing Pussy Riot punk band, two of whose members have been jailed for two years in remote prison camps for an anti-Putin performance in a church.
Millions of Soviet citizens were sent to prison camps or executed under Stalin's rule, while millions also died in horrific famines blamed on his brutal agricultural polices.
"There is nothing like this in Russia and, I hope, never will be again," said Putin.
However rights groups in Putin's Russia have accused him of using Stalinist repression techniques including the jailing of opponents and impeding the work of NGOs with repressive laws.
Asked about the ongoing trial of Kremlin critic and anti-corruption whistleblower Alexei Navalny, seen by the opposition as politically motivated, Putin said that those who expose sleaze must expect scrutiny of their own record.
"People who fight corruption themselves must be squeaky clean. There should not be a situation where those who shout 'Stop, thief!' are allowed to steal themselves."
"But that does not mean those who have differing views should be dragged into jail," he added.
Navalny, a prominent protest leader and lawyer, has attributed the embezzlement charges against him to Putin's orders, as he faces a decade in prison. He has openly declared his desire to stand for president himself and regularly slams Putin's "gang of thieves."
Putin insisted that the trial, which went into its first full day on Wednesday in the regional city of Kirov, would be fair.
"I'm sure the trial will be objective," Putin said, without naming Navalny directly in his comments -- an apparent taboo for Russia's leadership.
Putin initially did not answer a question on Navalny from the editor-in-chief of liberal radio station Moscow Echo, Alexei Venediktov, but was prodded for his response by the host of the show on state television.