Alarm over EU aid to Russia

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The Independent Online
HUNDREDS OF millions of pounds of European Union food aid to Russia may be diverted to the black market or re-exported to other countries, according to a paper compiled by Britain and four other European governments.

The document is the most formal criticism of the European Commission's pounds 330m programme and underlines growing alarm that the aid will be swallowed up in Russia's chaotic distribution system.

Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, yesterday raised British concerns at a meeting of European foreign ministers in Brussels where doubts were also voiced by Joschka Fischer, the German Foreign Minister.

Many diplomats believe drugs and medicines are higher priorities for Russia, but the food aid programme is backed by EU farm ministers anxious to dispose of surpluses.

The paper, agreed by Britain, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden and Denmark, calls for independent monitoring of food aid distribution.

"The Commission surely does have a responsibility to ensure monitoring of the distribution," the paper says, adding: "There is a risk that, without adequate controls, the food donated will be sold on the black market or will even be re-exported to other countries."

The document calls for a "third party" to monitor distribution, with different organisations tendering for the job. It argues: "Since the Commission will be obliged in any case to publish an open tender for the transport of the food aid to Russia, a tender for supply-chain monitoring would not create any significant delay."

The Commission has sought guarantees from the Russian government about the fate of the aid, but yesterday Glenys Kinnock MEP, a member of the European Parliament's development committee, said:

"We need to be sure that the food aid is properly monitored. As I see it now, these controls are not in place."