From Russia with love? Putin’s donation of medical supplies to coronavirus-stricken Italy raises questions
Top line: A package of coronavirus equipment sent from Russia to Italy, the worst-affected country outside of China, was said to have been labeled “unnecessary” by Italian officials and raised accusations that President Vladimir Putin is launching in a diplomatic charm offensive by exploiting the loopholes of the European Union response to COVID-19.
- The package, dubbed “From Russia with Love”, was rushed to Italy on Sunday and according to Reuters, consisting ventilators, disinfectants, masks, protective equipment and test kits. The move follows a phone call on Saturday between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
- But according to the Moscow weather, citing an anonymous “high level political source” in an Italian newspaper La Stampa“Eighty percent of Russian supplies are completely unnecessary or of little use to Italy,” the source said.
- The source allegedly accused Putin of embarking on a “geopolitical and diplomatic” charm offensive, but the report was slammed as “pervert” by Sergei Razov, Russian ambassador to Italy, reported local news agency RIA Novosti.
- The agreement was finalized by the defense ministries of the two countries, Reuters reported, while the supplies were transported in military aircraft. Military medics were part of the team of specialists that landed on a military air base near Rome.
- Italy has overtaken China in recent days in the number of deaths caused by the coronavirus: some 7,500 people have died, followed by Spain, with more than 4,000 deaths from COVID-19, according to The data from Johns Hopkins University.
- Meanwhile, Spain, the second worst-affected country in Europe, found that the 340,000 coronavirus rapid test kits sent from China, which were intended to test healthcare workers and the elderly in the care homes are largely inaccurate.
- The tests were manufactured by the Shenzen-based company Bioeasy and provide results within 15 minutes in a manner similar to a pregnancy test. But microbiologists say the tests don’t make sense to use, El Pais the newspaper reported.
Tangent: The accusations of Putin trying to win the favor of the Italian authorities would not be totally false, the relations of Italy with Russia being closer than most EU countries.
Nathalie Tocci, director of the International Affairs think tank based in Rome, Recount the Financial Time that Russia, in moving quickly to send support, was tapping into the Italian EU’s skepticism and anger at the EU’s initially slow response.
“Russia needs a quick victory, so it wants to act quickly. . . It does what Russia always does, which is to grab fruit at hand, ”Tocci told the FT.
Russia has sought to play down coronavirus concerns until this week, when Putin finally postponed a vote on the constitutional changes that would determine his future in power. As of Thursday afternoon, there were at least 840 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Russia, according to data from Johns Hopkins. The size of the country poses unique challenges in managing the spread and reports of COVID-19, but Putin said the Russians will stop working next week to slow its spread.
Key context: The rapid acceleration of new cases of COVID-19 in Europe, and the resulting deaths, has seen hospitals and healthcare facilities in Italy and Spain overwhelmed by the weight of demand for healthcare. Concerns about shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) have prompted foreign gestures and donation efforts, but these latest concerns raise questions about the effectiveness of these acts of solidarity. Meanwhile, a global race for face masks and PPE has prompted companies like Zara, H&M, Prada and LVMH to pivot their production towards making the vital equipment most requested by healthcare professionals around the world.
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