MOSCOW -- In his final 100 days, Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev met with heads of state, traveled and kept a high public profile for a man rumored to have been near death last spring.
Speculation abounded in March that Brezhnev had been incapaciated by a stroke after a strenuous trip across the Soviet Union to Tashkent to appeal for better relations with China.
Soviet sources said he was hospitalized. Telegrams and statements continued to be released bearing his signature, but his face was not seen in public for four weeks. The Foreign Ministry said he was on a routine winter vacation.
He reappeared on April 22, walking across a Kremlin stage to attend Lenin birthday festivities.
Western analysts said even that appearance did not mean Brezhnev was well enough to be running the country day-to-day.
He seemed to have trouble raising his arms to applaud, his gait was extremely slow and his speech, as it had been for years, was slurred.
Stories about a struggle to succeed Brezhnev were common and official denials did not dampen speculation.
On July 3 Brezhnev left Moscow for the Crimea and his customary 2-month summer vacation.
In his last 100 days, incorporating half of that vacation, Brezhnev seemed to recover his strength. When he returned to Moscow Aug. 31 he appeared almost robust.
As if to defy his potential successors, Brezhnev met visiting heads of state at the airport, hosted Kremlin dinners, presented medals to cosmonauts and fellow Communist Party officials and issued major policy statements.
His visitors included Indira Gandhi of India and the leaders of South Yemen, Vietnam, Laos, Ethiopia and Cyprus.
He condemned President Reagan's Middle East peace initiative and offered a six-point plan of his own. He flew to Baku in the southern U.S.S.R. and praised its workers in public while criticizing corruption behind closed doors.
The friendly overtures to China intensified, although he lamented the absence of 'radical changes' in Peking's policy.
On Oct. 27 Brezhnev made one of his most strident speeches, accusing the Reagan administration of launching a political, economic and ideological war against communism.
He told the country's military commanders the Soviet Union would never be caught off guard and the armed forces would lack for nothing.
He followed up last Sunday by warning of a 'crushing retaliatory strike' to any country that attacked the Soviet Union.
Those remarks were made at a Revolution Day reception at the Kremlin that followed his review of a 2-hour military parade.
The reception attended by some foreign diplomats was his last public appearance before his death of heart failure Thursday.