It was good to read that Russia is restoring 1825 Phelps Place NW as a cultural center ["Hammer, Sickle and Saw: A Bilateral Labor of Love," Style, Nov. 27]. For years the mansion looked like a typical Soviet office space, its spacious rooms divided by pressed-board walls. There was even a Soviet-made internal wall phone on the public side of the visa section as late as 1991.

But in addition to all the gold leaf Russia is putting into the Kalorama mansion, it might be a good idea for it to get a clear title to the property. The house was bought, after all, with money from taxpayers of what now are 15 independent countries. Russia -- one of the 15 -- occupies the house and the other former Soviet diplomatic buildings as a squatter or as a self-proclaimed successor state of the Soviet Union. Its assumption of the U.N. Security Council seat is one thing, but real estate property is different.

What if in five or 10 years some Uzbek or Latvian starts a lawsuit in a U.S. court to recover this building for his or her country?

Recent disputes over Indian lands, Holocaust victims' property and German slave laborers' wages may serve as precedents for such action.

R. L. CHOMIAK

Washington