MOSCOW, DEC. 8 -- Moscow is not in danger of famine but needs food aid from abroad because of a collapsing economic infrastructure and widespread corruption in the food distribution system, the capital's deputy mayor said today.
Sergei Stankevich said that while shortages have increased greatly since last year, "the food stocks in Moscow are enough to ensure that there will not be a situation as in Ethiopia."
Food supplies in Moscow, Leningrad, northern industrial cities and countless villages have declined this year. Stankevich described how, in a time of political and regional conflict, many areas have elected to hang onto locally produced food instead of honoring contracts to send it to other areas.
Stankevich said the Moscow City Council would establish a commission to combat racketeers who try to siphon off food from aid shipments now arriving from the West. Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev also has ordered the formation of citizens' groups, backed by the police and the KGB, to monitor food distribution throughout the country.
Gorbachev has welcomed foreign food aid as a way of keeping up supplies and easing social tension. But some of his fiercest critics say they cannot tolerate the "humiliation" of foreign aid deliveries. Moscow officials estimate that aid from government and volunteer organizations in Germany, Israel, the United States, Italy and elsewhere amounts to 200 tons.
A conservative bloc of legislators, led by the Soyuz faction, held a stormy meeting today with parliamentary leader Ivan Laptev. The lawmakers accused Gorbachev of "presenting the Soviet Union as a beggar country" and said food aid must be rejected, according to the news agency Interfax.
The bloc also attacked the president for giving too much sovereignty to the Soviet Union's 15 republics, and some of the speakers openly discussed the possibility of Gorbachev's removal from power.
"Why does Gorbachev not think he can simply be physically removed from power?" one speaker asked Laptev. "Does he not understand what a rebellion is?"
Some speakers demanded that Gorbachev set up a broad-based committee to rule the nation, and others called for the dissolution of the legislature and the tranfer of "all authority" to the military, Interfax reported.
Some conservative leaders have pledged to bring up the question of Gorbachev's hold on power when the nation's full legislature, the Congress of People's Deputies, meets Dec. 17.