"Look at that line!" an amazed Richard Nixon said as he surveyed several thousand Saturday-morning shoppers outside the huge GUM department store on Red Square.

The unusually large crowd of Muscovites was waiting to get into the store for a buying spree before prices skyrocket next month.A few shoppers, however, got an unexpected bargain: the 78-year-old former president plunged into the throng, shaking hands and signing his autograph on their green ration cards.

"What are you going to buy today?" Nixon asked a woman who identified herself only as Valentina.

"Whatever they'll sell us," sighed the 60-year-old teacher, offering her ration card for him to sign.

"I'll put this on it, and that'll help!" Nixon said, scrawling his famous "RN" on the card and moving on down the line, campaign-style. He heard warm words of peace and friendship from the crowd as he passed out souvenir pens and compliments.

Nixon, who resigned as president in 1974 in the midst of the Watergate scandal, was making his seventh visit to the Soviet Union and what he said was his last, owing to age.

He said he had risen early on this cold and gloomy morning to be in Red Square "to see the people . . . to get the feel of the people."

What he found were queues of shoppers that were longer than he had seen on any of his previous trips.