and Russian officials are reportedly near agreement on an emergency food aid package worth some US$500 million to US$1 billion. The package will reportedly include anywhere from 1.5 million to 8 million tons of grain, according to various reports, along with 100,00 tons of meat and soybean meal. To underscore the crisis, First Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Maslyukov told reporters yesterday that “[f]ood supplies in September and October fell 6.6 times compared with the same months last year. It means stocks falling to two or three weeks’ level. It is a large-scale threat which we have had to straighten out” (Russian agencies, November 4).
Yet the Reuters news agency yesterday quoted SovEcon, a Moscow-based independent agricultural consultancy, as reporting that–despite Russia’s financial crisis and its worst harvest in forty years–it had exported 320 percent more grain between July and September of this year than over the same period in 1997. Reuters, citing statistics provided by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, noted that 16 million garden plots in Russia, while taking up only 2.6 percent of its agricultural land, accounted for more than 50 percent of its agricultural output last year (Reuters, November 4).
Some observers have warned that such humanitarian aid shipments are huge targets of opportunity for corrupt officials and organized crime. They cited the experience of similar shipments in 1992, which were disbursed by the quasi-state company Roskhleboprodukt. Much of this aid reportedly wound up on the black market. Several articles in the Russian press have used the occasion of impending humanitarian aid deliveries to discuss the past activities of such organizations as the National Sports Fund and the Russian Orthodox Church–which came to monopolize the import of such items as cigarettes and alcohol under the guise of humanitarian or charitable shipments, thanks to special foreign trade privileges provided by the Kremlin.
RUSSIAN RESPONSE TO JAPAN SAID TO BE READY.