With Russia's announcement Wednesday that it has begun the final stage of its withdrawal from Afghanistan, there's reason for hoping the last Soviet troops will be gone by the Feb. 15 deadline.

Even so, these are still unhappy days in Afghanistan. Food and fuel shortages are so severe that hoarding and looting are rampant.As bad as this situation already is, the prospects are for worse to come - including the likelihood of a bloodbath as guerrilla forces fight among themselves for control of the government after the Soviets have left. In anticipation of such bloodshed, the U.S. and other nations already are starting to remove diplomatic personnel from Kabul.

These grim prospects are in stark contrast to the undeserved praise that much of the world has been heaping on Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev lately for supposedly bringing peace to Afghanistan.

Though the Soviets recently airlifted food to Afghanistan, the shipments were belated and inadequate. Moreover, there is still plenty of Afghan blood on Gorbachev's hands despite the promising reforms he is engineering in Russia.

For example, the U.S. State Department reports the Soviets are continuing heavy bombardment of Afghanistan on a daily basis even though this practice is in clear violation of Russian assurances they would not engage in offensive military operations during their withdrawal.

During the withdrawal, the Soviets have also left behind toys and sacks of flour booby-trapped with explosives, putting the Russians in the position of making war on children as well as on hungry civilians. Scripps Howard News Service reports that the retreating Soviets have seeded millions of anti-personnel mines in the Afghan countryside. Fatal explosions in newly liberated villages have become frequent occurrences. Also continuing is Soviet use of poison gas. There are reports of its use against both military and non-military targets.

All this carnage has been presided over by Mikhail Gorbachev. Though Gorbachev still seems to be an improvement over previous Kremlin leaders, the Free World will make a serious mistake if it doesn't take into account his darker side.