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Comeback for Gorbachev no longer fantasy

WITH MIKHAIL GORBACHEV'Spolicy of glasnost (openness), the Kremlin leader from 1985 to 1991 held a mirror up to Russians and made them look at themselves. Brainwashed by Soviet propaganda, manybelieved they lived in the greatest country in the world. The mirror showed them they were capable of terrible cruelty to their fellows, they drank too much, their economic system was hopelessly inefficient and their bureaucrats were corrupt. They hated the man who made them face the truth.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Mr Gorbachev, idolised in the West for helping to end the Cold War, became one of the most unpopular politicians in his homeland. Many Russians blamed him for destroying an empire they remembered with increasing nostalgia. In 1996, when he stood in the presidential election against Boris Yeltsin, he won only a humiliating 1 per cent of the vote.

But over time, Russians have come to reassess Mr Gorbachev. They remember he gave them freedom. They have also had the opportunity to compare him with Mr Yeltsin, a champion of democracy but a flawed character who unleashed war in the Caucasus and is now mired in allegations of corruption.

It is probably too early to say whether Mr Gorbachev has any political prospects in Russia, after he gets over his grieving. He is likely to return to work at his private think-tank, the Gorbachev Foundation.

But the public mood has changed. If Mr Gorbachev were to stand in an election today, perhaps not for the presidency but for a seat in the State Duma, the chances are that more than 1 per cent of Russians would give him their votes.