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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EU, Russia Iron Out Food Aid Disagreements

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- European Commissioner Hans van den Broek on Friday signed a delayed protocol on food aid from the European Union to Russia and shipments should start in March, a commission spokesman said.

"We have initialed an operational memorandum, the obstacles have been removed to start the delivery of the goods," van den Broek's spokesman Nico Wegter said at a news briefing. "We think the first delivery should be in the second half of March."

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Gennady Kulik was expected to sign the document, negotiated over the past few days, later Friday or on Saturday.

The aid agreement has been on hold since early February, when EU tenders for the delivery of the first shipment were suspended amid confusion over terms.

The EU blamed Russia for going beyond the original agreement in stipulating delivery methods, slapping a fee on truck shipments and requiring certain types of packaging.

Negotiators from both sides solved their problems in Brussels on Thursday, said Bertrand Soret, the EU spokesman in Moscow.

The meat and dairy products will be brought in by truck, while the grain will come by ship to the Russian ports of St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad, Kulik said Friday, according to Interfax.

Russia agreed to drop a $500 levy on trucks delivering the food, one of the conditions that had stalled the agreement, Soret said.

The EU fears that could increase the risk of fraud and is demanding guarantees from the Russian government that the aid will be properly distributed. Some humanitarian aid deliveries in the past have been misappropriated.

The first shipment includes 280,000 tons of French wheat, 100,000 tons of German rye, 50,000 tons of rice, 100,000 tons of beef and 50,000 tons of milk powder.

The EU's cereals management committee Thursday agreed to reopen the tenders, with bidding allowed from March 2.

The total package, to be sent separately to give the EU the option of halting deliveries if it is not satisfied with controls in Russia, includes 1 million tons of wheat and 500,000 tons of rye.

Russia, mired in economic crisis, signed the food aid deal with the EU last month, and another deal with the United States for $650 million worth of food aid.

Meanwhile, the mayor of Anchorage asked residents of Alaska's biggest city Thursday to contribute food to help hungry people living in Magadan, the closest major city in the Russian Far East.

Mayor Rick Mystrom and a local relief committee kicked off a campaign to collect more than 272,160 kilograms of staples, including sugar, flour, noodles, powered milk and tea, to be sent to families in Magadan, a city of 350,000.

The relief campaign stems from Anchorage's official "sister city" relationship with Magadan. The Russian city is similar in size to Anchorage and located on the same latitude. Magadan is located across the Bering Sea, about 3,200 kilometers west of Anchorage.