MIKHAIL GORBACHEV, surrounded by a wall of bodyguards, moved through the tightly packed crowd like a small tidal wave. Television cameramen and reporters with their tape recorders held high struggled to thrust their microphones into his face.
Nearby, senior Gorbachev aides huddled in conversation with familiar faces from the Moscow political scene and from abroad. Former United States Sen. Gary Hart stopped by for a few words with Vitaly Ignatenko, once Mr. Gorbachev's spokesman and now the head of the Itar/Tass news agency. Yevgeny Primakov, the short, burly former Gorbachev aide who now runs the foreign arm of the successor to the KGB secret police, exchanged a few words with longtime Gorbachev aide Alexander Yakovlev.
It could have been any number of moments in years gone by in the corridors of the Supreme Soviet within the red-brick walls of the Kremlin. Instead this was the scene on Tuesday night when hundreds of wellwishers and journalists gathered here for a reception to mark the opening of Gorbachev's new home - a public policy research institute.
It was, one wag in the audience remarked, an evening of "perestroika nostalgia."
The powerful former Soviet leader has been uprooted from his Kremlin offices by Siberian politician Boris Yeltsin. His country - the Soviet Union - is also gone, replaced by 15 independent states. But still Gorbachev has retained an aura of power that is not easily dispelled. The opening of the Gorbachev Foundation, as it is popularly known, was attended by people such as former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, US Sen. Alan Cranston (D) of California, and even Russian Vice President Alexander R utskoi. They stood to offer welcome words of praise for their host.
"He will go down in history as the man of the century," Senator Cranston said, "but history has not been fully written."
As was always true, the man who led the former Soviet Union through a virtual second revolution commands more attention outside the borders of his country. Yesterday Gorbachev arrived in Germany for the first of a series of foreign tours, the first since he left office last December, aimed in part at raising money for his new institute. He is to visit Japan in mid-April and the US in May, the latter at the invitation of former President Ronald Reagan.
Gorbachev, who has been heard complaining of late about making ends meet as a private citizen, stands to make an enormous sum of money for himself and his foundation from lectures and publishing, including his debut as a syndicated columnist. According to his aides, the former Soviet leader has two books in preparation - a short volume on the collapse of the Soviet Union, giving his view of the events after the failed coup of last August, and a three-volume memoir. Negotiations with the publishers, which
include Bertelsmann, the sponsors of his week-long tour of Germany, are ongoing.
But the man who rose to power through hard-fought battles inside the apparatus of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union is far from content to withdraw from the domestic political scene. Slowly but surely he reappears here and there, on television or in the pages of the press. Last Saturday evening he attended a gala affair celebrating the first anniversary of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the leading liberal paper. Looking unusually relaxed, he took the stage to a warm and sustained round of applause from an a udience of Moscow intellectuals that would not have hesitated to excoriate him a few months ago. Now they laugh at his jokes.
GORBACHEV'S research institute is his new base of operations. It occupies the vast complex of the former Institute of Social Sciences of the Communist Party, where foreign communist officials came for training. Now hundreds of his former staff members occupy its offices, working on policy research projects. Their first product came out this week - a document on three future scenarios for the future of the Commonwealth of Independent States, which supplanted the Soviet Union.
Yet Gorbachev is treading carefully onto political ground these days, always coupling a word of praise for his successor in the Kremlin with an unmistakable barb. "I have no doubts whatsoever that he is conscientiously reforming the system," he said of Mr. Yeltsin in an interview with British and French television last week. "It is quite another matter how he does it."