Mikhail Gorbachev is accompanied on a tour of St Petersburg's Baltika brewery by its directors. The anti-alcohol campaigner later sampled the famous brew. Photo: Alexander Blelenky. (Large jpg - 58K)

Gorbachev may be preparing for election race

By Linda Jones

Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev hinted he is ready to re-enter the political arena during a visit to St Petersburg -- but his wife was not so keen on the idea.

Mr Gorbachev, now 64, told an audience at St Petersburg University that he could soon undertake a "big political campaign" but refused to comment further.

Political observers said St Petersburg would be a crucial link in a pre-election campaign for the former statesman. But Mr Gorbachev himself has yet to confirm or deny officially that he will make a run for the presidency in 1996.

Meanwhile his wife Raisa was more vocal. She told reporters, "I'd prefer it if he didn't enter another campaign. I know what power is. It's a colossal responsibility every minute of the day and night.

"It's one long working day overshadowed by decisions, tension and worry."

One of the highlights of the three-day visit was a tour of the hugely successful Baltika brewery.

Reporters were banned from a behind-closed doors meeting between Mr Gorbachev and its directors.

But according to staff the man who 10 years ago launched Russia's hardest-hitting anti-alcoholism campaign did sample some of the brewery's wares -- before confessing that he preferred Czech or German beer.

He was in the city for a conference entitled "The Role of Perestroika in the Fate of Russia" with city mayor Anatoly Sobchak at the Mariinsky Palace last Saturday.

He received a cool reception from the 150-strong audience as he hit out at the degeneration of the Soviet Union and the flood of imported goods into the country.

One member of the audience commented," To be honest nobody was really listening to him. People don't care what he says any more."

Mr Gorbachev also met stars from the Bolshoy Dramatichesky Theater after attending a performance of Moliere's "The Meddler in the Nobility."

He said, "I try to get around the country as much as I can because I'm convinced that it's good for both myself and Russians."

He added that his main task was to work with democratic forces to ensure the presidential elections will take place as planned. He believes that if they are canceled or postponed the consequences could be disastrous.