The mysterious science of Kremlinology, which fell into decline after the death of the Soviet Union in 1991, is making a bold comeback in the confusion of the Boris Yeltsin era.

In the old days, Kremlinologists pored over the dense pages of Pravda and studied the official photographs of Communist Party functions to see who was favored with a key position near the party boss.Today, with Pravda merely an opposition rag and nobody bothering to doctor Kremlin photographs any more, the Kremlinologists have been changing techniques.

Some of the top professionals are now employing the "Hirsute Analytical Tool" (also known as the "Receding Hairline Theory") - the hypothesis that Russian and Soviet leaders have alternated between hairy and bald.

Canadian diplomat Patrick Armstrong, one of the leading proponents of this theory, has discovered that the rotation between hairy and bald leaders can be traced back to 1825. He calls it "a theory of great predictive power" and "the crown jewel of the science of Kremlinology."

Czar Nicholas I, who ruled from 1825 to 1855, was balding. His successor, Alexander II, had a full head of hair. And so it went, for more than a century.

Lenin was bald, Stalin was hirsute. Khrushchev was bald, while Brezhnev was not at all challenged in that department. Mikhail Gorbachev was the last balding ruler, followed by the well-coiffed Boris Yeltsin.

The theory also has a corollary, too complex to explain here, about mustaches, goatees and mutton chops. Professionals such as Armstrong refer to it as the "Facial Fur Addendum."

The major implication of the theory, however, is that the next Russian leader cannot possibly be Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Grigory Yavlinsky or Alexander Lebed, all of whom are endowed with full heads of hair.

"President Yeltsin's successor will be a bald guy, possibly with a neat mustache," Armstrong has confidently declared.

In the Russian presidential election on Sunday, the only candidate who seems to be sufficiently balding is Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov.

During the long Russian winter, Kremlinologists were waiting patiently for Zyuganov to remove his "shapka," his traditional Russian fur hat. Now that spring has arrived, they have studied the Communist leader's pate and pronounced that his hairline has receded sufficiently to qualify him for the Kremlin.

Unfortunately, despite all of its predictive powers, the Hirsute Analytical Tool fails to say anything about the duration of a hairy leader's term in office.

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.)