MOSCOW, Aug. 23, 1991 (UPI) - New U.S. Ambassador Robert Strauss, dispatched to Moscow during the coup against Mikhail Gorbachev, said Friday the Soviet people earned their freedom from communism by standing up against the military-backed takeover. Strauss was called away from a California vacation when the coup began, flown to Washington for a quick swearing-in, and arrived in Moscow Wednesday in time to see the coup collapse in the face of popular resistance led by Russian republic President Boris Yeltsin.
''It was a very moving experience,'' Strauss said of watching the defeat of the hard-line Communist coup. ''These people know they earned something.''
The 72-year-old businessman and former head of the Democratic National Committee said the events of the last week were ''maybe the best thing that happened in a long time'' because it made the people stand up for what they believed.
''Installing democracy from the top like icing on a cake does not work,'' Strauss said. ''This coup was prevented by the people and the people know it.''
He said that ''obviously we are seeing the remaking of a government'' with Gorbachev's moves to share power with Yeltsin, but he said he had no guesses as to the eventual makeup of the power structure.
Strauss said while the final makeup of the government was still unclear, he was confident that the defeat of the coup would lead to faster reforms and more democracy.
''The forces that the United States feels so strongly about have had a great victory,'' he said. ''The winners are the principles that our country stands for.''
Strauss said since the end of the coup he had noticed an entirely different mood in the Soviet Union, nothing like the dour country full of problems he had imagined.
''There is something in the air here,'' Strauss said. ''These are happy people. More smiles, bounce in their steps, than in most cities around the world, and I've been in a lot of cities.''