MOSCOW, JUNE 1 -- Alexander Tyuvin considered the significance of the U.S.-Soviet summit in Washington for a few brief seconds and then turned to a subject that really interested him: where to find a good pair of shoes.
"To tell you the truth, what's happening in Washington is a little over my head. What's happening here in Moscow concerns me directly," said Tyuvin, a worker from the Urals city of Sverdlovsk interviewed in Red Square. He gestured toward the Kremlin where legislators from all over the Russian republic are debating what amounts to a declaration of economic independence from the rest of the Soviet Union. Then he pointed to the giant state department store, Gum, on the opposite side of the square.
"I just went in there, trying to buy some shoes, and they asked to see my passport. When they saw I didn't live in Moscow, they told me to get lost. It's shameful. I'm 100 percent Russian and I can't buy anything in the capital of my own country," he said.
For perhaps the first time in his five-year career as an international media star, Mikhail Gorbachev is having difficulty commanding the attention of the Soviet public on an important foreign trip.
Conversations in Red Square today suggested that Soviet citizens are coming to regard U.S.-Soviet summits as a natural, almost routine affair. The threat of war has been replaced by the threat of domestic economic chaos as the number one preoccupation of ordinary Soviet citizens.
There is a strong undercurrent of concern, particularly among older people, about the prospect of a reunited Germany becoming a member of a hostile military alliance. But it pales into insignificance compared to worries about the future of the Soviet Union and the increasing difficulties faced by ordinary people in maintaining a modest standard of living.
"All these global issues are of secondary importance to events in the Soviet Union itself. If things go badly here, the whole world community could be in danger," said Marina Salje, a radical deputy from Leningrad, as she emerged from the Russian congress in the Kremlin into Red Square.
As a leader of Leningrad's newly elected city council, Salje is trying to cope with critical shortages of food and consumer goods. Last month, after the government announced plans to increase the price of staples by 200 to 300 percent, a wave of panic buying swept the city. A month's supply of food was snapped up in three days. Next week, she said, the city council will be forced to consider rationing of all basic products.
Today, several important regions of the Soviet Union announced they would cut food shipments to the Soviet capital in retaliation for a recent ban by the Moscow city authorities on shopping by nonresidents.
The surge of local protectionism threatens to wreck the government's latest economic reform package -- the second in six months -- before it even has been approved by the Soviet legislature.
The putative economic war among different regions of the country is just one of many crises that will confront the Soviet leader on his return home next week. He also faces a political challenge from populist politician Boris Yeltsin.
The newly elected Russian president is planning to greet Gorbachev with a declaration of sovereignty, giving the Soviet Union's largest republic the right to run its own affairs.
"If Yeltsin succeeds in wresting control of Russia away from the center, it won't be worth holding summit meetings with Gorbachev any more," said Salje.
"Of course, the meeting between Bush and Gorbachev is important," said Natasha Krasikova, a language teacher. "But for us Russians what is now taking place in the Russian congress is much more important to us. Up until now, the very idea of Russia has been drowned in the Soviet Union. Now we have a chance to have our own country."
In a sense, Gorbachev is a victim of his own international success.
When he came to power in 1985, relations with the United States were exceptionally tense. Soviet citizens breathed a sigh of relief that they finally had a leader who was able to deal with the Americans.
The first meetings between Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan in Geneva and Reykjavik were followed with bated breath in the Soviet Union. Today, superpower relations are back on track and the fascination with summits has dimmed.
On a recent trip to the provinces, Gorbachev grumbled that Soviet citizens never bother to ask him anymore about foreign policy. All he hears are complaints about inadequate housing, food shortages, pollution.
Some years ago, "people would ask the same question wherever I went: 'When will war break out? Will there be war or won't there?' " the Soviet leader said on a meet-the-workers tour in Sverdlovsk. "This is my third day of traveling about and nobody has asked me anything of the sort."
Of the international issues that do make an impression on the average Soviet citizen, the reunification of Germany is probably the most important. Kremlin historians now say that the Soviet Union sacrificed 28 million lives in World War II to ensure its victory over Nazi Germany. Many Russians still have nightmares over the thought of a new conflict with their most powerful western neighbor.
"Americans are peace loving, but Germans are by nature aggressive," said Ivan Tenyavski, from Gorbachev's home region of Stavropol, who was 13 when the war ended. "They have always had a militaristic system. If they become a part of NATO, they could get atomic weapons. And then they will be difficult to control."
"Let Germany be reunited. That's fine, but why should they be a part of NATO? That would give the West an advantage over us. Germany should be neutral," said Anton Gilevski, a veteran of both the battle of Stalingrad and the siege of Leningrad.
"Germans are nice today, but our leaders have to take into account what they could be like in 40 years' time," said Nikita Tolstoy, 73, a professor of physics at Leningrad University and the oldest member of the Russian congress. Gorbachev must look after our interests. He has no right to ignore shifts in the balance of power in Europe."
Tyuvin, the worker from Sverdlovsk, agreed that Germany should not be allowed to join NATO. Indeed, he thought it would be better not to permit German reunification at all: Once united, the Germans could quickly get back to their old tricks. But then he considered the problem of buying a pair of shoes. "Germany is important, but the most important thing of all is that we Russians should finally live well," he said.