Moscow takes its hot rumors with aplomb

* Did you hear that Soviet gasoline prices are about to go up? * How about the coming currency reform, whereby new ruble notes will be issued as part of a call-in of the hundreds of thousands said to be stuffed in drawers, cabinets, and mattresses for use in a thriving "unofficial" economy?

* And President Leonid Brezhnev had decided to retire . . . but has changed his mind?

Well, don't -- necessarily -- believe any of it.

The Moscow rumor mill, a vibrant anomaly in this closed political system, seems to be working overtime for the Feb. 23 opening of the five-yearly Soviet Communist Party congress here.

Ask any diplomat to comment on the reports, and you'll almost inevitably be told: "I've heard the same rumors you have."

Talk to Muscovites and you'll ofter get much the same answer. Visitors from elsewhere in the Soviet Union say, yes, they've heard the rumors, too.

Perhaps the most credible explanation is that Soviet readers pick through the official press and, not unlike curious diplomats or foreign reporters, draw what appear to be logical conclusions.

For months -- amid spirited Soviet denials of CIA predications that this country's oil production may soon be on the decline -- the official media have carried calls for energy conservation.

Thus, the deduction: Gas prices may go up.

There has also been evident official concern over the fact that lots of rubles seem to be tucked in lots of places other than banks. Muscovites say many of them get spent greasing the rusty supply wheels for various commodities.

The apparent deduction: Maybe the Brezhnev regime will do what former Soviet leaders did before him -- issue new, revalued ruble notes and call in the old ones.

Mr. Brezhnev, by the way, is getting on in years. He has published his memoirs to great official praise.

Maybe, the rumor went for a while, he is getting ready to retire.

But effusive media praise for the Soviet President in recent months seems to have short-circuited that reasoning.

In Soviet political tradition, leaders don't retire. They either arem retired , or they pass on.

The Muscovite rumorers -- and Moscow diplomats -- seem to have decided that the pre-congress Brezhnev buildup is not a credible line on a man on his way out.

So Moscow will wait with bated breath to see what the congress does produce?

Not exactly, to go by the remarks of at least some rumor processors.

"We will know the truth about these things," one of them, a Moscow student, said with no vis ible trace of anxiety, "when these things are announced."

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