C O N F I D E N T I A L MOSCOW 000932 SIPDIS SIPDIS EO 12958 DECL: 04/03/2018 TAGS KDEM, PGOV, PHUM, PINR, RS SUBJECT: SOLZHENITSYN AND METROPOLITAN KIRILL ON RUSSIA, MEDVEDEV, UKRAINE Classified By: Ambassador William J. Burns. Reason: 1.4 (d). ¶1. (C) Summary: In separate conversations recently, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Metropolitan Kirill criticized the decision to recognize Kosovo’s independence and sharply condemned plans for Ukraine to move closer to NATO. Solzhenitsyn, who is partially paralyzed by a stroke, but remains alert and very engaged in current events, as his April 2 Izvestiya article on the Holodomor demonstrated, joined Kirill in voicing his concerns about poverty and the widening gap between rich and poor in Russia. Kirill again expressed optimism about prospects for better relations with Roman Catholic Pope Benedict and described his intention to attempt to jump-start an ecumenical dialogue under the auspices of the UN and, in the United States, via the National Council of Churches. Both Solzhenitsyn and Kirill were optimistic about prospects for Russia under Medvedev. End summary. Solzhenitsyn on Town Hall Democracy, Medvedev, Kosovo, Ukraine and NATO ------------------------------------ ¶2. (C) In a recent meeting, writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn received the Ambassador at his home outside Moscow. Solzhenitsyn, who will turn 90 this December has been in declining health for some time. A stroke has left his left arm paralyzed and his hand gnarled, but Solzhenitsyn’s legendary energy was undiminished, and he was alert, spoke clearly, and, as the conversation showed, actively engaged with the events of the day. With Solzhenitsyn was his wife Natalya, who followed the conversation carefully, and did not hesitate to contradict her husband when she thought it necessary. ¶3. (C) As he had in a 2007 Der Spiegel interview, Solzhenitsyn positively contrasted the eight-year reign of Putin with those of Gorbachev and Yeltsin, which he said had “added to the damage done to the Russian state by seventy years of Communist rule.” Under Putin, the nation was re-discovering what it was to be Russian, Solzhenitsyn thought, although he acknowledged that many problems remained; among them poverty and the widening gap between rich and poor. ¶4. (C) Solzhenitsyn enthusiastically told the Ambassador of the need to develop grassroots democracy through instruments of local self-government. Recalling his time in the United States, Solzhenitsyn called the Vermont town hall meetings he had witnessed the “essence of democracy.” Putin’s decision, following Beslan, to have governors appointed instead of elected had been a “mistake,” Solzhenitsyn thought. He also dismissed the on-again, off-again conversations in Russia about the need to construct a genuine party system as “irrelevant.” Solzhenitsyn thought it was necessary to elect officials directly, so that they could be held accountable for their actions. ¶5. (C) President-elect Medvedev struck Solzhenitsyn as a “nice, young man.” Solzhenitsyn had not met him, but he guessed he was up to the “enormous challenge of repairing the damage done to Russian citizens during the Soviet period.” His reference to the Soviet period caused Solzhenitsyn to worry that young Russians did not sufficiently appreciate the dangers of Soviet communism. It was essential, as well, that Russia re-assure the former Soviet states that it fully appreciated how “deformed” the Soviet system was, and was aware of the crimes, like the Holodomor, it had committed against Soviet citizens. (Note: on April 2, Solzhenitsyn joined the debate here about the famine in Ukraine in a brief article published in Izvestiya. In it, he recalls the 1921 famine that stalked the Urals and rejects the notion that the 1932 - 1933 famine was a an act of “genocide” against the Ukrainian people. Solzhenitsyn’s article sparked a mini-controversy here, with Father Gleb Yakunin taking Solzhenitsyn to task for “attacking the first CIS state that condemned the communist genocide.”) ¶6. (C) Solzhenitsyn repeated to the Ambassador his objection to independence for Kosovo. Why, he asked rhetorically, should the Serbs be held responsible for the sins of Milosevic? He was critical of plans to move Ukraine closer to NATO, although he didn’t belabor the point. The more significant moment, he thought, was the reaction of the United States after 9/11, when Putin attempted to extend a helping hand. He cooperated in paving the way for U.S. bases in Central Asia and joined other foreign leaders in extending Russia’s condolences to the American people. Solzhenitsyn hoped for a time when that spontaneous gesture by Putin would be fully reciprocated. ¶7. (C) Solzhenitsyn told the Ambassador that he continues to work actively in the archives, and it was clear from the topical references sprinkled throughout his conversation that he followed current events actively.