Back to the USSR? Vladimir Putin proposes referendum to revive Stalingrad

The city was named Stalingrad in honour of the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and later changed to Volgograd under Nikita Khrushchev

President Vladimir Putin has suggested holding a referendum to rename the Russian city of Volgograd to Stalingrad.

Mr Putin made the statement on Friday during a meeting with Russian war veterans in Normandy, where he attended D-Day commemorations celebrating the Allied victory against Nazi Germany.

"We will do as the residents say," the Itar-Tass reported on Friday as Mr Putin joined world leaders to pay their respect to the soldiers who fell in combat.

Until 1925, the city, which is home to more than one million people and is one of Russia's largest industrial centres, was known as Tsaritsyn. The name was later changed to Stalingrad, in honour of the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, until 1961 when the Khrushchev administration renamed it Volgograd under its de-Stalinisation program.

Today, Mr Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted that the Russian leader does not have a preference and was simply responding to a question. According to Mr Peskov, the Russian president understands this is an issue that "concerns an entire generation" of veterans and he cannot a decision like that "on his own".

"When answering the question of veterans in Normandy, Putin noted that this was not among his prerogatives - to decide on renaming a city or a town," he told Russian News Service (RSN), adding that mainstream media misrepresented the situation.

Soviet troops climb out of a trench during the Battle of Stalingrad

However, high-profile Russian figures were quick to throw their support behind the proposal. On Saturday, Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's outspoken Deputy Prime Minister, called for the name to be restored, tweeting: "I never doubted the need to give back great Stalingrad its name. Not for the sake of Stalin, but for the sake of the Stalingraders."

Russian Orthodox church spokesman, Vsevolod Chaplin, also expressed his support to revive its wartime name of Stalingrad.

"The word Stalingrad already has a life of its own, independent of the name Stalin. It's associated with the victory in a famous battle, with a certain part of our history," news agency Interfax reported.

The Battle of Stalingrad, the Nazi offensive against the Red Army, was one of the most brutal episodes in the Second World War. Both sides committed atrocities and soldiers and civilians endured freezing conditions and starvation during a lengthy siege. At least 1.2 million are estimated to have died before the German surrender on 2 February 1943.