Rationing began in Leningrad and several other Russian cities Saturday as authorities struggled to ensure food supplies are distributed properly and last through the winter despite the crippled Soviet economy.

Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev issued a decree late Friday ordering that work collectives set up committees to monitor delivery of consumer goods. Russian leader Boris Yeltsin set up an "extraordinary food supplies commission" and the KGB was instructed to guard foreign food shipments.Local authorities in the large industrial cities hit hardest by shortages said the problem was not a scarcity of food in the country but a refusal to deliver to the cities.

"Ration coupons can hardly guarantee residents the purchase of food products, since disruptions in butter, sugar and meat supplies have been growing increasingly frequent," Chelyabinsk Mayor Valery Potkin, whose city of 1.1 million began rationing Saturday, told the independent Interfax news agency.

Rationing also was imposed Saturday in the Arctic Circle city of Vorkuta, and the 5 million residents of Leningrad were issued coupons for a wide range of basic goods for the first time since the Nazi blockade of the Soviet Union's second-largest city.

The Leningrad monthly ration coupons allow each resident 3.3 pounds of meat, 2.2 pounds of sausages, 1.1 pounds of butter, 10 eggs and 2.2 pounds of macaroni.

"However, unlike yesterday, no crowds can be seen near the stores on the first day of the ration card system," the official Tass news agency said. "Having bitter experience, Leningrad residents have stored up a few things before the trial."

Many Soviet officials and Western diplomats in Moscow say reports of impending famine are greatly exaggerated and images of empty shelves and long lines that prompted an international relief effort do not give an accurate picture of the overall food situation in the country.