On the eve of a major Kremlin meeting of the Soviet leadership this week, President Leonid Brezhnev reappeared after a reportedly serious bronchial infection, at the world ice hockey matches here over the weekend.
Brezhnev, 72, has been absent from public view for about a month, his health poor enough to force Soviet postponement of a March state visit by French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing until late April.
A variety of unverifiable reports from Soviet sources circulating through the foreign diplomatic community described Brezhnev early this month as suffering from pleurisy or an aggravated bronchitis. He was said byone source to have been gravely ill at one point, but restored to good health by massive doses of antibiotics.
Several Soviet sources in recent days have asserted that Brezhnev, although now recovered, cannot for health reasons undertake the long transalantic journey to Washington to sign a new Strategic Ams Limitation Treaty (SALT) with President Carter later this year.
A SALT signing ceremony at a Carter-Brezhnev summit meetin normally would be expected to take place in the U.S., after two successive visits by American presidents to the Soviet Union. But if Brezhnev's health prevents his taking the long journey, European cities such as Geneva, Vienna and Helsinki seem to be possibilities.
According to current diplomatic views here, Geneva seems to be the strongest possibility, since Vienna was the site of the disastrous summit meeting between Nikita Khrushchev and President Kennedy in 1961, and Helsinki is inextricably tied to the 1975 agreement on European security and cooperation, the Helsinki Accords, whose human rights provisions the Soviets have openly disdained while repeatedly professing adherence.
The official Soviet media have not raised the question of a site for the summit, but continue to reflect the current Kremlin line that a new agreement is essential to both countries.
Foreign diplomats here will be watching closely the Supreme Soviet session that opens Wednesday for possible leadership changes or indication of changes to come. It is a topic of endless speculation, sharpened this session by the relative severity of Brezhnev's recent illness and the fact that the leadership will go through a pro forma resignation and reappointment by the parliament.
At least one Soviet source has asserted that Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin, 75, was a possible candidate as an interim president if a SALT agreement were reached and if Brezhnev himself was too ill to attend a signing summit.