MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday praised Alexander Solzhenitsyn, once a leading dissident writer and fierce critic of the Soviet Union, saying his life was associated with "the destiny of Russia".
Putin, who served in the KGB -- the state security organisation that once persecuted Solzhenitsyn -- last week signed a decree giving the veteran writer the state prize for lifetime humanitarian achievements.
"Millions of people across the world associate the name and work of Alexander Solzhenitsyn with the destiny of Russia itself," Putin said at a state award ceremony at an opulent Kremlin hall .
"His scientific research and outstanding literary works, in fact all his life, are dedicated to the fatherland," he told the gathering of Russia's elite, including top politicians and actors.
Poor health kept the 88-year-old Solzhenitsyn, who rarely appears in public, from the ceremony attended by 11 other winners.
Vesti-24 television channel then showed Putin visiting Solzhenitsyn in his house in a prestigious area in Moscow.
"I am very honoured by the attention to my works shown with the Russian state award," jaded-looking Solzhenitsyn said in a video address to the ceremony in a voice that slurred a few times.
Solzhenitsyn's wife, Nataliya, told RIA news agency that he had stayed at home because he felt unwell: "The state of his health today is the result of the camp trauma."
Solzhenitsyn had refused to accept a high state award from Boris Yeltsin, post-Soviet Russia's first president, saying he could not accept honours from a leader who brought misery to his people.
The writer, awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970, was imprisoned by Soviet authorities, survived cancer and then spent 20 years in exile before returning to Russia in 1994.
His most famous work "The Gulag Archipelago" is a detailed account of brutality at Soviet prison camps.