President Vladimir Putin has paid his respects to millions of people killed under Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. He took part in a poignant ceremony on Russia’s annual day of remembrance for the victims of Stalin’s purges. The former KGB spy called on the country to unite to prevent such events happening again. “Such tragedies happened more than once in human history,” Putin said. “These tragedies occurred when ideals that seemed attractive at first turned out to be empty, but were put above fundamental values like human life, rights and freedom.”
But Putin’s participation angered his political opponents and relatives of victims of the purges. Human rights activists held their own rally outside the former KGB headquarters. One representative of a victims’ group accused Putin of having one foot in democracy and the other still in the KGB.
Millions of people were executed under Stalin and many more perished in a vast network of prison camps, known as the Gulags. Victims’ Day has been marked every year since the collapse of the Soviet Union. It has taken on increasing political significance as a battleground between pro and anti-Kremlin forces in recent years.