The mayor of Leningrad, one of the Soviet Union's leading reformers, has appealed to the West for emergency aid to avoid famine and prevent public opinion from turning against democratic reforms.
"Already, a lot of people are saying, `Let's go back to the way things were under Brezhnev - at least then there was food in the stores,"' said the leader of the country's second largest city, Anatoly A. Sobchak.In recent days, Sobchak, 53, has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the new post of vice president in President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's reorganized government.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Monday, he said he had not been approached about the job. He skirted the issue of whether he would accept if Gorbachev offered it, saying he did not expect to be chosen and had no desire for a permanent career in politics.
Sobchak, a member of the Supreme Soviet legislature and former law professor, is the first high-level Soviet official to appeal publicly for food donations from the West.
He said some people in Leningrad had accused him of being too proud to ask for help, but that for the good of the city, he would be willing to "get down on my knees" if necessary.
Germany promised Gorbachev during his visit last week that it would provide emergency food aid to help the Soviet Union through the winter, and Chancellor Helmut Kohl said Monday that rail shipments could begin as early as next week.
Sobchak said a private U.S. organization, AmeriCares, was also preparing shipments.
The mayor visited the United States in October and met with President Bush at the White House. He said he regretted that he did not ask for emergency aid at that time.
"A month ago, I thought we could avoid foreign aid. Today, I think we can't," he said. "The food situation has worsened, and by the time we take steps to increase stockpiles and improve distribution, we could already have placed our major cities . . . in danger of famine."