MOSCOW President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday he was not returning Russia to the era of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and denied any political motive in the prosecution and jailing of opponents.
In response to a question from a liberal journalist at his annual phone-in, Putin said he saw "no element of Stalinism" in the country since his return to the presidency last May.
He said Russia must never return to the cult of personality, repressions and labour camps under Stalin, who controlled the Soviet Union for three decades until his death in 1953, but that this did not mean Russia should not have order and discipline.
"Nobody is putting anyone behind bars for their political views," Putin added in reply to a question about the jailing last year of two female members of the Pussy Riot protest group and the trial of protest leader Alexei Navalny on theft charges.
He said he was certain that Navalny, an anti-corruption campaigner and organiser of anti-Putin protests who could face up to 10 years in prison, would have a fair trial.
(Writing by Steve Gutterman, Editing by Timothy Heritage)