Soviet woes spur action by Europe, Gorbachev Kremlin overrides republics on supplies

December 15, 1990

MOSCOW (AP) -- President Mikhail S. Gorbachev acted yesterday to try to restore order to the chaotic Soviet economy, nullifying decisions by the republics and local authorities that have disrupted food supplies.

He also decreed that government enterprises must carry out all contracts through the rest of this year and the first quarter of 1991 to ensure a steady flow of supplies.

His move represented a crackdown on regions that have broken the discipline that for years has guided the Soviet Union's command economy.

Parliament has pressured Mr. Gorbachev to improve food supplies,particularly in Moscow and Leningrad, where state stores have little milk, sugar, eggs, butter, cheese and meat. Some right-wing lawmakers demand that a state of emergency be declared.

Moscow city officials accuse surrounding regions that usually supply the capital with food of reneging on contracts and stopping deliveries.

In his presidential decree, read last night on Soviet television, Mr. Gorbachev complained that government economic decisions "have not been carried out."

He declared "null and void all economic decisions by local and republic bodies which undermine normal trade." He also ordered local and republic officials to reverse decisions to stop supplying Russian regions and Moscow.

The decree ordered the govern ment to apply tough sanctions on exporters who fail to secure proper licenses and contracts to sell raw materials and other goods abroad.

This action appeared aimed at preventing any of the 15 Soviet republics from signing contracts with foreign companies to export resources without central government consent.

Earlier yesterday, presidential economic adviser Stanislav S. Shatalin blamed food shortages entirely on distribution problems and economic disarray. He urged that emergency steps be taken, without specifying what he had in mind.

Soviet ports and borders have been swamped by shipments. More than 1.6 million metric tons of imported goods were waiting to be unloaded or transported from ports, and about 7,000 railways cars were waiting at border stations.

The government says deliveries of most products are running 15 percent to 44 percent below 1989 levels, mostly because of theft and profiteering.

"Hunger is not an issue. There's enough food," Mr. Shatalin said in an interview. "The issue is how to find it and distribute it so that it doesn't get into the hands of the Mafia, saboteurs and corrupted elements."

Yesterday's Moskovskaya Pravda reported that the KGB secret police, searching Moscow warehouses for hidden food, found in one shop nearly 2 metric tons of meat, 750 cans of instant coffee and 880 pounds of butter. One Moscow fish distribution enterprise had 193 metric tons of black caviar whose date of sale had already expired, the newspaper said.

Foreign countries continued to send the Soviet Union tons of humanitarian aid.

About 1,700 metric tons of food and 800 tons of medicine and other supplies have arrived, with most going to hospitals and children's homes, officials said.

Mr. Gorbachev ordered the KGB and other law enforcement bodies to halt pilfering, and government commissions have been formed to monitor the problem and direct the distribution of food.

Workers' committees and other informal groups also are tracking food on the way to its destination, Mr. Shatalin said.

But the heart of the problem remains landownership and the chance to produce food profitably, he said. Individuals must be given farmland from the state-owned farms and from collective farms that now can reserve only some of their produce for private use.

Individual Soviet citizens already have the right to own tiny plots of land, which alone account for an estimated 30 percent of the country's food sold through high-priced private markets.

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