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In Mother Russia’s Cupboard, Few Beets and Cabbage, But Lots of Garlic

November 20, 1990

MOSCOW (AP) _ The Communist Party newspaper Pravda on Tuesday took a grim inventory of the Soviet pantry for the winter and warned that ″almost everywhere, supplies are worse than last year.″

Although it predicted there would be no ″real hunger″ in the coming months, Pravda said the food that Russians traditionally count on, such as cabbage and beets, will be in short supply.

‴Cabbage soup and porridge is our food.′ It’s a famous Russian proverb. It appears that now we can’t even get this humble portion,″ Pravda correspondent A. Platoshkin wrote.

Leningrad Mayor Anatoly Sobchak on Monday made a public appeal to the West for emergency food aid for his city, the second-largest in the Soviet Union, to avoid famine and discontent with the reform movement.

President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who is lining up Western aid for his nation during his current trip abroad, admitted in a speech to the national legislature Friday that the country faces critical shortages at the start of winter but insisted the government has enough supplies.

The Pravda correspondent said he agreed with Gorbachev’s assessment that there were adequate reserves, although he also wrote that ″what’s in storage doesn’t mean it makes it to the table.″

Pravda said there should be enough bread for the nation after the government bought 66 million tons of grain, which is more than last year.

But vegetables, potatoes and other foods were in short supply.

The reason for the shortages, according to Pravda, is that enterprises in the various republics are disobeying orders from the central government to fulfill their quotas.

As the Soviet republics push for local control over their economies, political structures and culture, they are disregarding orders from the central government. This has caused the ″paralysis of power″ that has stalled Gorbachev’s reforms and led him on Saturday to propose restructuring the executive branch of government and put it entirely under his control.

He said Saturday an emergency program would be drafted within two weeks to try to solve the country’s food shortage.

In the vast Russian republic, which has more than half the country’s population, the potato supply is little more than half of what is needed, Pravda reported.

Potatoes are known as the ″second bread″ because of their importance in the Russian diet.

″Sometimes ... it was our first and last bread,″ Platoshkin wrote. ″It could be called our national love. We devote many proverbs and songs to potatoes.

″But maybe, at the present moment, we’re going to have to play a funeral dirge,″ he said, noting that the many potatoes stored in dirty, damp cellars will rot before the winter is out.

The article did not address the potato needs for Moscow, where citizens and soldiers helped gather this autumn’s potato crop following heavy rains that hindered the harvest.

Pravda said there also were shortages of other basic foods: fresh and sour cabbage, carrots, beets, tomatoes and the Russian favorite, pickled onions.

Only garlic was in oversupply, it said.

In the Ural Mountains cities of Sverdlovsk, Chelyabinsk and Tyumen, there is an critical shortage of meat and dairy products, Pravda said.

At Sobchak’s urging, Leningrad’s City Council voted last week to begin rationing meat, poultry, eggs, flour, butter and other staples starting Dec. 1. Many other cities throughout Russia and the Ukraine already ration food, sugar, vodka, matches, soap and other necessities.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Sobchak said some people in Leningrad had accused him of being too proud to ask for help, but that for the good of the city, he would ″get down on my knees″ if necessary.

Sobchak, a member of the Supreme Soviet legislature, is the first high- level Soviet official to appeal publicly for food donations from the West. He said the West German government and a private U.S. organization, AmeriCares, already were preparing shipments.

″A month ago, I thought we could avoid foreign aid. Today, I think we can’t,″ he said. ″The food situation has worsened, and by the time we take steps to increase stockpiles and improve distribution, we could already have placed our major cities ... in danger of famine.″

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