RUSSIA has marked 60 years since the death of Joseph Stalin, with the nation divided about whether to view him as a tyrant who slaughtered millions or a saviour who turned the country into a superpower after World War II.

Hundreds of people laid red carnations at the Red Square grave of the Soviet ruler, where his body was buried in 1961 after being displayed for several years alongside Lenin in the Mausoleum.

“There were repressions, but they should not overshadow the greatness achieved by the country,” said 48-year-old businessman Roman Fomin.

“For many Stalin means victory, economic growth and prosperity. Many people would like his return.”

Stalin’s role in Russian history has split society for decades.

His image is openly used in Victory Day celebrations for the end of World War II, while the 1930s-era purges, the murderous collectivisation of the peasantry, and the feared network of Gulag camps that together claimed millions of lives are largely absent from public discourse.

“I flew in from Kamchatka,” said Larisa Tokunova, a 50-year-old lawyer from Russia’s easternmost region, calling Stalin a “genius” who turned the Soviet Union into a superpower.

“If we manage to restore our country, it can only be according to his plan,” she said.

Stalin is often praised for creating the post-war Soviet empire that stretched from the Baltic states to the Caucasus, Central Asia and beyond to the Pacific coast.

Even in Georgia, the dictator’s birthplace where the pro-Western government has instituted reforms aimed at erasing pro-Stalin propaganda, about 100 people rallied on Tuesday, praising his glory.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who served as president between 2008 and 2012, has said he views Stalin’s legacy “negatively” and even attempted a so-called “de-Stalinisation” campaign.

But President Vladimir Putin, who once called the breakup of the Soviet Union one of history’s great tragedies, has avoided any evaluation of the Soviet leader.

In an opinion poll this month by the independent Levada Centre, 49 per cent of Russians said they viewed Stalin’s role as positive, while 32 per cent disagreed.