When Aid Shipments Arrive, The Tough Part Begins With AM-Soviet-Politics, Bjt
MOSCOW (AP) _ It looked like the kind of treatment afforded a visiting VIP: a motorcade through the capital, a police escort with lights blinking and sirens blaring, U.S. Embassy officials on hand, journalists recording the event.
But Sunday’s hoopla heralded the arrival of something even more important: an international aid shipment of hash browns, powdered milk, sugar and other food items meant to help Soviet citizens make it through a hungry winter.
Theft and distribution breakdowns are rampant, however. So the trip from the airport to destinations like Moscow’s Professional Technical School No. 2 was run with the precision of a military operation.
″You plan as well as you can and hope for the best. There’s a potential for a lot of things to go wrong in any operation like this,″ said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Lewis Wallace, one of more than 50 U.S. government employees making sure that Sunday’s shipment wound up in the right hands.
Foodstuffs and medicine are often stolen at the airport immediately upon arrival, or filched from transport vehicles, or taken by employees of institutions receiving them.
The aid delivered Sunday was from a 150,000-pound shipment flown from Pisa, Italy to Moscow aboard U.S. C-5A military aircraft. Another shipment went to St. Petersburg.
″We hope this first operation is one that will be continued,″ Ella Panfilova, Russia’s minister for social protection, told a news conference as the aid was being unloaded at the Moscow airport. ″And I want to stress that we have been sparing no effort to deliver this assistance to those who need it most.″
To that end, the aid was unloaded from the aircraft by U.S. military personnel and the boxes were stacked in the backs of 27 rickety Soviet trucks for delivery to orphanages, schools, hospitals, and other charitable organizations, chosen on the basis of need by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent.
Each delivery truck was escorted by two U.S. Embassy officials and Moscow police officers.
″The point of the escort is first to make sure that the truck indeed goes to the institutes designated to receive the aid, and then to make sure that the aid indeed gets to them,″ said Daria Fane, a U.S. Embassy political officer.
At Professional Technical School No. 2, a vocational training institute for disabled children and adults, students passed boxes hand-to-hand to a small storage room. One U.S. Embassy employee was scribbling notes and taking pictures, another passing out detailed cooking instructions in Russian.
Director Zinaida Kadomets said students ate on institute premises until two months ago, when food became too scarce.
They now eat at a factory-run cafeteria down the street, which is all the school can afford with the three-ruble daily food stipend the government allows for each student. Three rubles is about 3 cents at the current exchange rate.
″Of course we’re ashamed,″ Kadomets said, serving up sandwiches made with Belgian meat that was donated by the European Community. ″I was brought up on Communist ideas, and I always thought they were the best ideas.″
But even the elaborate security during the delivery was no guarantee the food wouldn’t be waylaid.
After the delivery, most officials left the area, and the school’s storage room door was left open - although the aid destinations were chosen in part because they had storage rooms that could be locked.
When a reporter walked in, a man was slitting the seals of a newly delivered case of food with a small razor blade. He glanced up.
″Just checking to make sure everything’s in place,″ he said.