MOSCOW (AP)--The U.S. Export-Import Bank pledged July 16 to support the leasing of U.S. agricultural equipment to Russian farmers whose aging Soviet-era tractors and combines are falling into disrepair.

Ex-Im Bank Vice Chairman Eduardo Aguirre and Alexander Tkachev, the governor of the Krasnodar region of southern Russia, signed a memorandum of understanding on setting up a new leasing company in Krasnodar.

The agreement will "enable U.S. companies to develop and sustain long-term relationships with Russian customers," Aguirre said.

While Krasnodar, some 750 miles south of Moscow, is one of the top grain producing regions in Russia, its Soviet-era farm equipment "has shown definite signs of wear," Tkachev said. He estimated that the region needs 5,000 new harvesting combines.

Krasnodar is still negotiating with potential investors, but hopes to have the leasing company fully financed by the end of the year, said Andrei Yatsenko, a regional investment official. Tkachev said he hoped the company would have initial share capital worth $20 million.

The Ex-Im Bank, a U.S. government-held corporation created in 1934, provides loans, guarantees, and credit insurance to help American exporters compete overseas. Aguirre will spend three more days in Russia as part of his visit.

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