Moscow — ''It's not, 'You can't deal with the devil,' but, 'The devil's got to fork over something to make it worth your while to deal with him.' '' Thus did a Western Kremlin-watcher sum up the evolving Soviet attitude toward Ronald Reagan - an evolution that began well before Mr. Reagan's sweeping reelection to the American presidency on Tuesday.
How the Russians respond during Reagan's second term - and what they demand of him - will inevitably alter the tenor of East-West relations for the next four years and beyond.
Reagan says improved relations with the Soviets will be the most important goal of his new administration and called for a summit meeting with Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko.
Mr. Chernenko, speaking at ceremonies marking the 67th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, did not directly respond to the proposal. Instead, he said, ''The verbal assurances of being committed to peace will not be enough.... What is needed are practical actions.''
Indeed, that is expected to be a key Soviet theme as the Kremlin faces a second Reagan term.
The Kremlin is expected to press its claim that Reagan must go beyond rhetoric and take ''concrete'' steps to improve the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Some Western analysts here anticipate a spurt of diplomatic activity between the two countries. Some do not rule out the possibility of some modest progress in specific areas, perhaps even the beginning of negotiations on controlling weapons in outer space.
The consensus here, however, seems to be that there is little likelihood of any rapid resumption of arms control negotiations during the second Reagan term.
The news of Reagan's reelection filtered through the mists of an early winter morning in Moscow as Russians celebrated the anniversary of the October 1917 revolution that ushered in communist rule. Word first reached Moscow through foreign radio broadcasts, and only afterward through the official news media.
Tass, the official Soviet news agency, said that Reagan's professed desire for peace was a ''tactic,'' a ''forced response to the sentiments of millions of Americans who express mounting anxiety over the growing threat of nuclear war....''
The Russians were hardly unprepared for Reagan's victory. And slowly, over the past several months, the official Soviet propaganda line toward Reagan, while by no means softening, has changed. Gone is the formulation that it is ''impossible to deal with'' any administration headed by Reagan.
As it became clear that Reagan was leading in opinion polls, that was replaced with a demand for ''deeds, not words.''
Some here do not rule out a modest ''boost'' in US-Soviet relations following the American elections. Both sides will be eager to be seen as reasonable, they say, and some even predict a brisker pace of dialogue between Washington and Moscow.
It is assumed that meetings will continue between the Soviet and US ambassadors and diplomats in the respective capitals.
''There is a desire to go ahead'' with regular contacts, says one Western diplomat.
But sooner or later, many analysts agree, both sides will once again run into the hard reality that Soviet and American positions, especially on the key issue of nuclear arms control, are at loggerheads.
''They (the Russians) haven't changed their positions,'' says one Western diplomat.
But, he continues, ''I just have the sense that the Soviets would like to address some other issues first, and leave the Gordian knot of arms control until later.''
Accordingly, some analysts here expect progress on other fronts - negotiation of a cultural-exchange agreement, or a formal demarcation of the maritime boundary between the US and the USSR.
Others do not rule out the possibility of some sort of accord arising from the ongoing Stockholm conference on disarmament in Europe.
At least one Western analyst says the first major breakthrough between the superpowers, however, could be the opening of some sort of negotiations on weapons in outer space.
Many Western observers here say the Russians genuinely appear to want to avoid the cost of an expensive arms race in space and may be willing to drop their insistence that the US first accept a moratorium on the testing of space-based weapons before talks can begin. (The US says any such moratorium would merely preserve a Soviet lead in space weapons while inhibiting American research efforts.)
But Soviet sources are noncommital on the question of how superpower relations might evolve further.
''It's impossible to say,'' says one Soviet official.
The key sticking point, now as before, seems to be the presence of new American-supplied Pershing II and cruise missiles in Western Europe. The Soviets have linked any resumption of nuclear arms negotiations with the removal of those missiles - something the Reagan administration has consistently refused to do, on the grounds that they are necessary to counter a growing number of Soviet SS-20 missiles targeted on Western Europe.
That demand has occasionally been dropped from some official Soviet pronouncements, only to resurface again.
''It hasn't changed,'' says one Western diplomat.
And until it does, says another, ''It's a little hard to see how we can get back to negotiations.''
Clearly, it will not be easy to backtrack from that position, since it has been proclaimed so loudly and so often that many Soviet citizens know it by heart.
One young man in a fur hat, standing in front of the V.I. Lenin Museum after Revolution Day festivities, said that Reagan must do something about those missiles.
''The rockets in Western Europe,'' he said, ''are not neccessary. Not necessary.''
After all, he continued, the Soviet Union lost 20 million people in World War II. ''We know about war,'' he added, ''and we want peace.''
Some diplomats here theorize that even if - and it is only an if - some within the Kremlin leadership would like quietly to abandon that position, they are hamstrung by leadership struggles among members of the ruling Politburo.
One diplomat says that is the single biggest factor currently complicating superpower relations.
Another demurs, however, positing, ''We must assume that the Soviet leadership is capable of making decisions. We can't afford to operate under any other assumption.''