SOVIET UNION: Rumors of Death

Absences spark stones

Leonid Brezhnev was not at the airport to greet Syrian President Hafez Assad when he arrived in Moscow last week for a three-day state visit. Nor did the Soviet President and Party Chief show up for a Kremlin dinner in Assad's honor. Both absences were grave breaches of protocol. Since nothing is seriously amiss with Syrian-Soviet relations, Brezhnev's non-appearances quickly led to speculation that he was seriously ill.

More than that, in midweek a rumor flashed round the world: Brezhnev was dying or, indeed, was already dead. As had occurred...

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