MOSCOW, JUNE 4 -- The Soviet television news camera zoomed in on the rapturous faces of Washingtonians shouting "We love you" at President Mikhail Gorbachev.
"You will agree, comrades," said the commentator, pausing for effect as 200 million Soviet television viewers watched the capital of the Free World exulting in Gorby-mania, "such recognition from Americans for our president is worth a lot to us."
Up to a year ago, most Soviets probably would have agreed. Gorbachev's summit meetings with U.S. presidents helped the Soviet Union rediscover the rest of the world after years of isolation. His popularity in the West was a source of pride for Soviets and reason to hope that life was about to change for the better.
But, as store shelves emptied and shopping lines lengthened, the mood began to change. The indifference displayed by many Soviets toward the Washington summit suggests that the domestic political dividend derived by Gorbachev from international success is declining. Being photographed with President Bush may not do the Soviet leader much political harm -- but there is little evidence that it does him much good.
"The Soviet people are tired of all these summits and agreements. The only thing they are interested in is concrete improvements in their own lives. People are fed up with words, speeches, promises. The time of promises has passed," said Mikhail Poltoranin, a journalist and radical-reform member of the Soviet legislature.
As Gorbachev heads home from San Francisco, he is returning to a country that has spawned new problems and crises in the few days he has been away. The government's latest economic reform program is in tatters following a wave of panic buying sparked by the announcement of big price increases starting July 1. Gorbachev's political nemesis, Boris Yeltsin, has been elected president of Russia, the largest and most powerful of the Soviet Union's 15 republics.
Interviewed on Soviet television last night, Gorbachev argued that the improved international climate would enable the Soviet Union to divert resources from defense to social needs "in order to improve the life of our people." He also seemed at pains to underline the point that his perestroika reform program has caught the imagination of Americans.
"Nobody told them to go out onto the streets. They went out by themselves," he said. "I would like the Soviet people to see all this because it is very important for them to know it."
The state-run television news program Vremya obliged Gorbachev by devoting extended reports, eating up 30 or 35 minutes of its nightly broadcast, to his reception in the United States, where he signed pacts with Bush on arms control and trade. For Gorbachev's supporters, the scenes were proof of the international prestige now enjoyed by the Soviet Union. For his opponents, they were evidence of American "naivete."
"All this euphoria is very strange to us," said Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis, whose tiny Baltic nation has been the object of a Soviet economic blocade since its March 11 declaration of independence. "I can only assume that Americans behave like this because they live a long way away. If America was communist, perhaps they would feel differently about Gorbachev."
In a telephone interview, Landsbergis criticized Bush's decision not to tie trade concessions to the Soviet Union with a satisfactory resolution of the Lithuanian crisis. The U.S. administration says that the granting of most-favored-nation status is linked to a bill now under consideration in the Soviet legislature to allow free emigration.
"Some people are valued lower than others. It's very mercantile. It seems that people who have been annexed and occupied do not have as many rights" as people who want to leave the Soviet Union, the Lithuanian leader complained in reference to the annexation of Lithuania by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in 1940.
Gorbachev's supporters concede that Soviet citizens have lost much of their interest in foreign policy now that the threat of war has receded. But they argue that the Soviet leader's successes on the international stage will help him in his domestic difficulties.
"It was a good summit," said Yuri Kalmykov, head of a legislative committee on law-drafting. "The agreements that Gorbachev signed in the United States will help us with our economic reforms. They will benefit ordinary people."
Tatyana Koryagina, an economist and adviser to Yeltsin, disagreed that there would be any political benefit to Gorbachev as a result of the summit. "A huge rift has developed between Gorbachev's international standing and his position at home," she said. "People stopped following these international trips last year. The Americans were very friendly toward Gorbachev, but this does not impress the average Soviet peasant or worker who has nothing. It seems to them that Americans are somehow being manipulated, just as people here were manipulated in the old days."
"These international successes do not mean anything anymore," said Poltoranin, the journalist. "The conservatives say that Gorbachev is praised so highly in the West because he has sold out to the imperialists. They accuse him of giving away Eastern Europe and Germany. The progressive camp knows that this isn't true but is running out of arguments with which to defend him."