Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Friday that the Soviet Union was a totalitarian state that crushed individual liberties.

His comments on the U.S.S.R., the most outspoken by a recent Russian leader, will be seen as an attempt to distance himself from the prime minister, Vladimir Putin, who has adopted a more ambiguous stance on Russian history.

Medvedev's comments included stinging criticism of Josef Stalin. The dictator's crimes against his own people could not be justified, he declared.

"Despite the fact that he worked a lot, and despite the fact that under his leadership the country recorded many successes, what was done to his own people cannot be forgiven," Medvedev said in an interview. He also spoke out strongly against any attempts to rehabilitate Stalin and sought to distance the Kremlin from a series of recent moves to rekindle his memory.

"This is not happening and it will not happen," he said. "It is absolutely out of the question. It is not right to talk about Stalinism returning to our everyday lives."