Today's Story Line:

In the bloom of its young democracy, Russia knows how to throw a good political campaign. The possible candidates in the race to succeed President Yeltsin next year are all parading before the public with their own showmanship. The highly popular Moscow mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, can even down a pancake with no hands. A common message: Russia should be proud of its rich heritage.

In Nigeria's renewed democracy, the election for president on Feb. 27 may be under the influence of one behind-the-scenes figure, the well-moneyed Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. African writer Lara Santoro had a rare interview with him.

American and European diplomats are holding their breath to see if the Serbs and ethnic Albanians build on their limited consensus at the Kosovo talks - or whether they renew fighting. Both sides are gearing up for war this spring.

- Clayton Jones World editor

REPORTERS ON THE JOB *MISSING THE '15 MINUTES' CONCEPT: Reporting today on early campaigning for Russia's 2000 presidential election, Moscow bureau chief Judith Matloff found it easier to get an audience with the high-profile undeclareds than with the smaller fish who've already thrown their hats in the ring. Gennady Zyuganov, whose Communist Party is facing a fractious time, said he wasn't granting any one-on-one interviews. Aides of the relatively liberal Grigory Yavlinsky wanted to know how long the resulting article would be - in inches. (The reply was apparently unsatisfactory; the request went unanswered.) Alexander Lebed, a regional governor and former paratrooper, did agree to talk, but with customary military precision, gave the allotted time as seven minutes. Judith complied, asking her questions in about three. Her discipline pleased the general, who rewarded her with the right to ask two more questions. "I hope," he then said, "that you will note my generosity."

MILESTONES *YOU'VE GOT A POSTCARD: The design firm Hoshi will sell a voice-recorded postcard in Japan starting in April for $12.50. The "Talk Mail" has a speaker (bottom, left) and a tiny microphone to record a 10-second message.

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