WITH the government and the private sector working together, the Germans are about to launch a humanitarian aid program for the Soviet Union. Beginning tomorrow, the German Red Cross hopes to start delivery of hundreds of thousands of care packages to the Soviet Union, where food staples are in short supply.
The packages, containing soap, rice, sugar, and canned meats, are destined for orphans, the disabled, and the elderly. The German Red Cross is spending 3 million marks ($2 million) on the program initially, and is coordinating its efforts with other humanitarian organizations, such as the German branch of Care.
While the private sector is footing the bill for the packages themselves, the federal government in Bonn is smoothing the way for actual delivery of the goods.
Today, a high-level German delegation, led by Chancellor Helmut Kohl's foreign policy advisor, Horst Teltschik, will travel to Moscow to work out details of the deliveries, including a duty-free status for the goods.
According to the Foreign Office in Bonn, the government will begin an airlift using planes from the German Luftwaffe to facilitate transport if it proves necessary. Emergency food supplies in Berlin, built up in the event of a now unlikely cold-war blockade, are also available to the Soviets if they want them, according to the Foreign Office.
Mr. Kohl, meanwhile, is expected to make a nationwide appeal for donations via German television tomorrow night. The program, ``Help Russia,'' will be broadcast live from Leningrad. Numbers for bank accounts set up specially for the Soviet cause have been printed in the German press.
Horst Hamborg, spokesman for the German Red Cross, recalls a flood of private giving for the December 1988 earthquake in Soviet Armenia. So far, he says, 30 to 50 private firms have offered to help transport the care packages.
Actually, the Soviets could pay for food supplies if it came to that, says a Bonn government official who asked not to be named. But Bonn is backing this donation plan as a sign of ``gratitude'' to Mikhail Gorbachev's approval of German unity, he says. It will help erase the negative image which many Soviets still have of Germans, he adds.
According to press reports, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze acknowledged last week that help from Germany alone ``will, of course, only partly solve our problem.''