Putin: Vietnam Worse Than Stalin Purges

MOSCOW -- President Vladimir Putin said Thursday no one should try to make Russia feel guilty about the Great Purge of 1937, saying it may have been one of the most notorious episodes of the Stalin era but "in other countries even worse things happened."

Speaking at a televised meeting with social studies teachers, Putin noted that this is the 70th anniversary of a year many Russians regard as a synonym for state-sponsored terror. It is an anniversary that has, however, gotten relatively little attention in Russian media.

"Yes, we had terrible pages" in Russia's history, Putin said. "Let us recall the events since 1937, let us not forget that. But in other countries, it has been said, it was more terrible."

Russia should never forget the abuses of the Communist era, Putin said. But he also said no one had the right to make Russia feel guilty about those abuses.

"No one must be allowed to impose the feeling of guilt on us," he said. "Let them think about themselves. But we must not and will not forget about the grim chapters in our history."

Political arrests on dubious charges were common throughout Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's rule, resulting in the execution of hundreds of thousands of Russians. Millions more became inmates of the gulag, the Soviet system of thousands of slave labor camps.

Large-scale arrests of Communist Party members began in 1934 and seemed to reach a crescendo in 1936-37, when a series of show trials was held in Moscow featuring dramatic courtroom confessions.

Thousands of bureaucrats, military officers and party officials were rounded up and imprisoned by the NKVD, one of the predecessor agencies to the KGB. Many were shot after secret trials.

Russia has never sought to bring to justice KGB officials implicated in human rights abuses committed during the Communist era. Putin, a proud alumnus of the KGB, headed its main successor organization, the Federal Security Service, in the late 1990s.

Speaking with the teachers, Putin suggested the United States' use of atomic weapons against Japan at the end of World War II was worse than the abuses of Stalin. He also cited the U.S. bombing campaign and use the defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.

"We have not used nuclear weapons against a civilian population," he said. "We have not sprayed thousands of kilometers (miles) with chemicals, (or) dropped on a small country seven times more bombs than in all the Great Patriotic (War)" -- Russia's name for World War II.

"We had no other black pages, such as Nazism, for instance," he said.

His remarks came just over a week after President Bush unveiled a monument to the victims of communism in Washington. At the ceremony, Bush compared those totalitarian regimes to modern terror groups.

Putin said he regretted some of Russia's history textbooks had been written using grants from foreign groups, implying foreign governments were dictating how Russian history should be told. Textbook authors "dance to the polka that others have paid for," he said.

In recent years, the Kremlin has cracked down on the operations of foreign non-governmental organizations, saying some were pursuing political agendas.