The Russians asking questions about basketball over the Moscow-to-Washington hot line? The Cold War really must be over.

Experts manning the hot line, which was rededicated Monday after a $4.7 million upgrade, see evidence of glasnost in test transmissions from the Soviets. Routine, maintenance-related dispatches have actually become chatty."Could we ask an unofficial question about basketball?" the Soviets asked last February over the communications link set up after the Cuban missile crisis to avert the accidental outbreak of war. "Could you please tell us how our Kurtinaitis performed against your snipers?"

The Soviets were referring to Rimas Kurtinaitis, a 6-foot-5 star from Lithuania. The National Basketball Association had invited Kurtinaitis to challenge eight NBA stars in a three-point shooting contest in Houston. "Snipers" apparently was the Soviets' translation of long-range basketball shooters.

"We'd like to know how he feels in the NBA," the Soviets asked.

"Friends," the Americans technicians and linguists on the hot line replied, "in the local newspaper it says that Kurtinaitis is feeling fine, but there are no results from the competition."

Technicians at Fort Detrick in Frederick make sure the communications link is available to President Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev.