The grandson of former Soviet dictator Josef Stalin was quoted as saying he accepted that Stalin was responsible for millions of deaths, but the atrocities had started before he came to power.

Alexander Burdonski, a Moscow theatrical director, told La Stampa that his grandfather tyrannized his own family.Asked if he agreed that Stalin ordered the deaths of millions of people, Burdonski said: "I am convinced that Stalin was deeply involved in it. But I also believe the process started before him."

Burdonski is the son of Stalin's son Vassili.

The Soviet Union has recently revived debate on the extent of repression under Stalin, but Burdonski said: "Some of those becoming judges are people who suffered reprisals and are not historically objective. It's true there were concentration camps and other terrible things.

"But I have the impression that not everybody is able or even wants to get to the heart of the matter."

Burdonski, 47, said his early life had been ruined by his grandfather, for whom he felt only fear.

"I was afraid of him because everyone was afraid of him. Everyone called him `master' and something always twisted in their hearts at the sound of that word.

"I don't wish my worst enemy to go through what I lived. I had no childhood, no youth, no normal life, I didn't have the warmth every child needs. I didn't want children because I wanted to spare them the same path of misery," he said.