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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Bruised and Battered,' Gorbachev Declares Candidacy

ST. PETERSBURG -- Returning to this city where more than a decade ago he went public with his revolutionary policies of glasnost and perestroika, Mikhail Gorbachev on Thursday officially announced his candidacy for the Russian presidency.


"After much thought, I have made this decision, but not out of an interest in power. I have had more than my share of power," Gorbachev told a packed auditorium of students at St. Petersburg University.


Saying that 1.5 million signatures of support had already been gathered for his candidacy -- enough to ensure inclusion on the ballot -- he said, "I see in this a sign of a return of trust toward me from the citizens of Russia."


Polls show that less than 1 percent of voters favor sending Gorbachev back to the Kremlin. Asked who he thought was best placed today to win June's elections, Gorbachev admitted that it would be "early" to put money on his candidacy.


"I think [my poll ratings] will rise. But if I'm mistaken, well, so what? We're all human," he said. "As to the risk, I'm a bruised and battered politician, and it does not frighten me."


Gorbachev said he would stand on what he described as a mixed record as the first and last president of the Soviet Union.


"I've lived through much, I take pride in what I've done, although I'm even more sorrowful over my failures," he said. "But no one can deprive me of the right to defend my beliefs and my life's main work. I wanted to give, and gave, freedom to people, and I paved the path to democracy."


That freedom and democracy, he continued, would be threatened if either President Boris Yeltsin or Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov were to win in June. Gorbachev said the main goal of his candidacy (other than winning) was to block those two from the Kremlin.


To do that, he said, he would be willing to step aside and back any third candidate who, in the course of the campaign, seemed to be gathering enough momentum to unseat Yeltsin and beat Zyuganov. Such a candidate might be either economist Grigory Yavlinsky, eye doctor Svyatoslav Fyodorov, or retired General Alexander Lebed, he said.


Fyodorov and Lebed have been associated with an on-again, off-again group that has dubbed itself the Third Force. Gorbachev approved of the concept behind the third force -- in which several second-string candidates would join forces and pick one leader to whom the rest would defer.


Gorbachev said he would gladly defer to someone with better chances. Speaking of Yavlinsky, he said, "If I thought he would win, I'd quit in his favor." He said the same of Fyodorov.


In May 1985, Gorbachev, having just been chosen by the Politburo to rule the Soviet Union, visited Leningrad. At Smolny -- a former school for noblewomen that became a Communist Party headquarters -- he made a speech that laid out the line of reasoning that grew into the policies that grew into the policies of glasnost and perestroika.


"It was received very well, and afterwards he went out to meet people on the streets and shake their hands, which was also the first time he did that," remembered Vladimir Kostyushev, a sociologist with the Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg. "They always meet him warmly here -- although that doesn't mean they will vote for him."


Reaction to Gorbachev's announcement was mixed. That of Valery Gulevaty, 52 and unemployed, was typical. He took the visit as an opportunity to resurrect sexist anecdotes about Gorbachev's high-profile wife, Raisa, and to make other jokes.


"Listen, I don't know why he's running, and neither does he," Gulevaty said. "But explain to me this: Under the Communists, there was no toilet paper. There were lines all down Nevsky Prospekt for toilet paper. And then, the Soviet Union fell apart, and there was toilet paper everywhere. I have never, never understood that. Where did all that toilet paper come from? I believe Gorbachev had it in stacks in the Kremlin."


Others found Gorbachev a more impressive figure. For example, speaking of Chechnya, Gorbachev won warm applause when he discussed his efforts to extricate the Soviet Union from Afghanistan and fearlessly insisted on talks with Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudayev, whom he compared with the Middle East's Yasser Arafat.


"He shouldn't be president. He should be a peace negotiator, or a human rights activist," said Nikolai Baturno, a 40-year-old engineer.


Gorbachev cited his May 1985 visit as one reason he had chosen to announce his candidacy in St. Petersburg. The other was an invitation from workers at the Kirov Works -- one of Russia's largest and most famous factories -- to visit. But Thursday, Gorbachev said orders from the Kremlin had quashed his Kirov Works visit. He also complained that Mayor Anatoly Sobchak had refused to receive him, saying that he was too busy.


Other factories also first invited, and then, after two or three hours, took back their invitations, Gorbachev said.