What is going on behind the Kremlin's walls?
It was the first time a Western head of state came face-to-face with the new Soviet leader, Konstantin Chernenko, to conduct affairs of state. And it came when conventional wisdom has it that East-West relations are in a deep freeze.
Not so, said French President Francois Mitterrand.
''There is no glaciation. We are not ice-bound at all.''
He was, of course, speaking of Soviet relations with France - not with other Western nations.
And while Mr. Mitterrand - despite outspoken criticism of the Soviets' treatment of dissident physicist Andrei Sakharov - apparently met with no outright rancor in the Kremlin, neither, it seems, did he find the Soviets ready for any sort of major breakthrough in East-West relations.
So Mitterrand left Moscow without agreeing to conduct regular meetings with Chernenko in the future, as had been the custom with past Soviet and French leaders. Future meetings, Mitterrand said, will occur when both sides have something to discuss.
With no ''glaciation,'' but no clear evidence of a thaw, either, what describes the state of affairs behind the Kremlin's walls?
One key Western analyst here suggests ''fragmentation.'' He posits that each member of the ruling Communist Party Politburo may be ''running his own shop, without too much overall direction.''
Such an analysis may help to explain some recent Soviet actions that seem puzzling to the West. During Mitterrand's visit, for example, Kremlin spokesman Leonid Zamyatin scotched the idea of a summit meeting between Chernenko and President Reagan - an idea Reagan had floated only a week earlier.
Thus, as one Western diplomat notes, the Kremlin reinforces its intransigent image in the West - and aids Reagan's efforts to appear conciliatory during this United States presidential election year.
That, of course, is hardly what the Soviets could have intended. - and is perhaps yet another example of a clear policy direction.
Western analysts here in Moscow assume the thumbs-down signal was primarily the work of Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, who they believe now runs Soviet foreign policy single-handedly. And Gromyko, they say, is still stung by the Soviet Union's failure to prevent the deployment of new NATO nuclear missiles in Western Europe last fall.
Consequently, they say, he is still pushing for a hard-nosed policy toward the US - and finding little opposition from any other member of the Soviet leadership, including Chernenko.