Solzhenitsyn Praises Russian President

The Associated Press
Thursday, April 27, 2006; 8:19 PM

MOSCOW -- Nobel laureate and former Soviet dissident Aleksander Solzhenitsyn accused the United States and NATO of seeking to encircle Russia, and praised President Vladimir Putin for working to restore a strong state.

The reclusive 87-year-old author told the Moscow News that NATO's ultimate aim was deprive Russia of its sovereignty, according to a full text of the interview posted Thursday on the Web site edition of the liberal weekly.

"Though it is clear that present-day Russia poses no threat to it, NATO is methodically and persistently building up its military machine _ into the east of Europe and surrounding Russia from the south," Solzhenitsyn said.

"This involves open material and ideological support for 'color revolutions' and the paradoxical forcing of North Atlantic interests on Central Asia," he said, adding there was "little substantial difference" between the actions of the U.S. and NATO.

The "color revolutions" referred to the "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine and "Rose Revolution" in Georgia and other recent protests that brought opposition leaders to power in former Soviet republics, enraging Russia over what it saw as Western encroachment on its home turf.

By NATO interests in Central Asia, Solzhenitsyn was alluding to the 1,000 mostly U.S. troops stationed at an air base set up in December 2001 at Kyrgyzstan's main civilian airport near the capital, Bishkek. The force also includes small French and Spanish contingents.

The United States lost its other base in former Soviet Central Asia last year when Uzbekistan expelled U.S. troops following Western criticism of a crackdown on demonstrators.

"All this leaves no doubt that they are preparing to completely encircle Russia and deprive it of its sovereignty," Solzhenitsyn said.

Solzhenitsyn, known for his conservative nationalist views, lashed out at the pro-Western government in Ukraine for its drive to obtain NATO membership and said Russia would "never betray in any way the multimillion Russian population in Ukraine and renounce our unity with it."

The author accused former reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev of capitulating to the West, and Russia's first post-Communist president, Boris Yeltsin, of pursuing the same policy as well as presiding over the massive theft of state resources and a descent into chaos.

He said Putin, a former KGB career intelligence officer now in his second presidential term, was making efforts to restore Russia's shattered statehood.

"Foreign policy, considering our current situation and possibilities, is being conducted sensibly and ever more forward-thinking," Solzhenitsyn said.

"But owing to the heavy burden left by his predecessors, an awful, awful lot in Russia has yet to be lifted up from decline. The overall state of people's lives remains hard and chaotic," he said.

Solzhenitsyn spent a decade in a labor camp and documented life in the camps in his best-known works, "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" and the "Gulag Archipelago" trilogy.

He won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1970 and was expelled from the Soviet Union four years later. He lived in the Vermont until his 1994 return to Russia, three years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

He has kept a low profile in recent years, giving few interviews and issuing few public statements.

© 2006 The Associated Press