More than half of Russians call Stalin a 'wise leader': poll
A Russian Communist Party supporter holds a portrait of late Soviet leader Joseph Stalin during a memorial ceremony to mark the 63rd anniversary of his death at Moscow's Red Square on March 5, 2016 (AFP Photo/Yuri Kadobnov)

More than half of Russians believe the Soviet dictator Stalin was a wise leader, a new poll by Levada independent polling centre showed Friday.

Levada found 57 percent of Russians said they entirely or generally agreed that Stalin was a "wise leader who made the USSR powerful and prosperous."

Levada said the figure was at a "maximum level" for its polls, up 10 percent on four years ago.

The pollsters also found that 71 percent of Russians agreed that "whatever mistakes or sins are attributed to Stalin, the most important thing is that he led our people to victory in World War II."

That figure was up 11 percent on 2012, with Levada linking increased levels of positive feeling about Stalin's role in World War II to Russia's current involvement in armed conflict.

"In our view, negativity towards (Stalin) falls in periods of armed conflicts with Russia's involvement when historical memory about 'enemies', victory and defence becomes more vivid," Levada researchers said in the analysis of the poll.

It cited 2008-2009 when Russia was in conflict with Georgia and "the events in eastern Ukraine," despite Russia's official denial that it is fighting with separatists in Ukraine.

Asked whether they agreed with the view that Stalin was a "brutal tyrant" who killed millions, 62 percent said yes, while 23 percent disagreed. The figures had changed slightly since 2008, from 68 and 19 percent, respectively.

The seeming contradiction reflects the contradictory government policy on Stalin and his legacy, said Yan Rachinsky, one of the founders of Memorial rights group which has chronicled the purges and works to commemorate their victims.

"On the one hand, the authorities are memorialising the victims of repressions, on the other hand they erect Stalin monuments," Rachinsky told AFP.

The poll questioned 1,600 people and was carried out between March 11 and 14 in 48 different regions in Russia.