News Russian aid to Italy exposes the EU

Russian aid to Italy exposes the EU

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By Robin Emmott and Andrew Osborn

BRUSSELS / MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s military aid to Italy to combat the spread of the coronavirus has revealed the European Union’s failure to provide rapid assistance to a member in the crisis and has given President Vladimir Putin a promotional interview at home and abroad.

Italy was grateful for the Russian decontamination units and army medical personnel deployed in the past four days, and contrasted this with a gradual response from EU countries.

Senior diplomats and EU and NATO officials see the aid less as a generosity and more as a geopolitical step to assert Russian power and expand its influence.





© Reuters / Russian Ministry of Defense
The Russian military sends medical supplies to Italy at an airport in the Moscow region

“The Italians have asked for help across the board, and the Russians are sending military doctors and military equipment with military aircraft,” said a senior EU diplomat.

“That sends a signal.”

Russian gas imports help fuel Italy’s power plants, and Rome has long called for EU sanctions against Moscow to be eased for Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. The penalties have been renewed repeatedly, while Moscow has supported separatists in other parts of Ukraine.

Rome denies that the aid signals a fusion of geopolitical interests.

Related Slideshow: Coronavirus Outbreak (COVID-19) (provided by Photo Services)

“There are no new geopolitical scenarios, there is a country that needs help and other countries that help us,” Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio was quoted on Thursday by the Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera.

“It is not a question of a Cold War, it is a question of reality or realpolitik, you name it what you want.”

‘LOVE FROM RUSSIA’

Russia has flown at least 15 military transport aircraft flights to Italy with truck disinfection units. Eight medical brigades and another 100 employees include some of the most advanced nuclear, biological and chemical protection forces.

“France gave us 2 million masks, Germany sent us a few dozen ventilators. (Prime Minister Guiseppe) Conte has requested and received some aircraft from Russia that brought 180 doctors, nurses, ventilators and masks,” said Italy’s government commissioner for the corona virus -Emergency Domenico Arcuri said RAI on Sunday.

The Russian government and its NATO delegation posted several videos of trucks on their way to Bergamo, the epicenter of the Italian coronavirus crisis, on their Twitter accounts, while Russian state media showed that the Italian foreign minister personally launched the first Russian plane greeted.

Airplanes and trucks labeled “From Russia with Love” carried huge stickers with heart-shaped Russian and Italian flags side by side.

In contrast, NATO airlifts with urgent medical supplies to European allies have not attracted public attention. The European Union has experienced delays in the procurement of face masks and other protective equipment, while EU governments have closed their borders.

NATO soldiers actively fly sick patients to hospitals, deliver beds and repatriate citizens, even though NATO has not deployed its own biological protection units.

“This is a great success story for Putin. I think the Italians have fallen into a trap,” said a senior NATO diplomat, although he found that Italy is now receiving more support directly from the alliance. Spain has also asked for direct help from NATO.

Alexander Baunov, a senior fellow at the Moscow Carnegie Center, noted that China and Cuba also sent medical aid to Italy. “The pandemic is an opportunity for countries that want to revise the existing world order in their favor,” he said.

SANCTIONS RELIEF

The EU and NATO have long accused the Kremlin of using a mix of soft power, covert actions, and computer hackers to try to destabilize the West by exploiting divisions in society.

Last week, an EU-internal Reuters document accused the Russian media of carrying out a “major disinformation campaign” against the West to worsen the effects of the corona virus. Moscow contested such a plan.

Although the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, did not mention Russia by name, he said in his blog this week that the EU must be more aware of “a struggle for influence through spiders and the policy of generosity”.

Russia is subject to European Union sanctions for its banking, financial and energy sectors, and all 27 governments must agree to renew them every six months.

When asked whether Russia expects Italy to return the favor by trying to lift EU sanctions, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the term as absurd.

“We’re not talking about conditions, calculations, or hopes here,” he said on Monday. “Italy really needs a lot more help, and what Russia is doing is manageable.”

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