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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Drought May Force Aid Appeal

A blistering hot summer and the reverberations from Russia's economic crisis have taken a devastating toll on the nation's crops, making it likely that Moscow will appeal for American food aid, Russian and American officials said. Russia had hoped to harvest 70 million tons of grain this year. But Western experts estimate that Russian farms will yield no more than 55 million tons.

The setback comes on the heels of last year's harvest of 47.8 million tons, the worst in Russia in more than 40 years. Instead of the turnaround in food production the Kremlin had hoped for, Russian officials have begun to prepare the public for another tough year.

While formal talks on additional aid have not yet begun, Agriculture Minister Vladimir Shcherbak told reporters last week that Moscow wanted the United States to donate animal feed, like soybeans, soy meal and maize.

By using donated feed to sustain its cattle, Russia would have more grain available for people. The government hopes to sell the donated animal feed at home and use the proceeds to improve agricultural production, Shcherbak was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Entering a superheated political year, the Kremlin has powerful political incentives to try to keep Russian consumers and farmers happy f or at least to make them somewhat less unhappy.

First, the Communists will be angling to expand their control over the legislature when parliamentary elections are held in December.

Next, candidates will be maneuvering to succeed President Boris Yeltsin in presidential elections next summer.

Russia's food needs are an important political factor in the United States as well. Food aid to Russia would be a boon to the U.S. farmer, a consideration for the Democrats as they seek to keep control of the White House.

The United States has agreed to provide 3.2 million tons of grain, meat and other food to Russia. Much of the approximately $700 million worth of food was donated, while the remainder was financed by a 20-year loan at nominal interest. Washington also footed the transportation costs, bringing the total value of the aid effort to around $1 billion.