Putin helps the West pending the lifting of sanctions

Russian health aid to Italy and the United States has been met by criticism from the opposition and suspicions in the West that the Kremlin is actually seeking to improve its image and achieve the lifting of sanctions.

“Those criticisms are always present, … but without international cooperation, not a single country can fight coronavirus alone and effectively,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov.


When COVID-19 had barely hit Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered humanitarian aid – fifteen planes, more than a thousand fans and a hundred doctors – to the European country with the highest number of cases, Italy, whose Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte gladly accepted the offer.

“From Russia with love,” said the containers transported by Russian military aircraft to a country that has advocated insistently in recent years for the lifting of sanctions and the normalization of relations between the Kremlin and the European Union (EU).

Still, the criticism was not long in coming. Some media, such as the newspaper “La Stampa”, reported that most of the aid was not useful to combat the epidemic, while others warned of the presence of so many Russian soldiers in NATO territory.

“Russian aid to Italy is humanitarian in nature and unrelated to the political agenda,” Russian Foreign Spokeswoman Maria Zajárova replied this week.


Then it was the United States’ turn. Putin and his American colleague Donald Trump had a telephone conversation on Monday in which they discussed the epidemiological situation in their respective countries and also the collapse of oil prices.

Putin repeated the same strategy as with Conte. He offered him help, in the form of 60 tons of respirators, fans, and face masks, and Trump accepted the proposal, which he called a “nice gesture.”

“I am not worried about Russian propaganda, not even a little. It was a nice offer. I could have said no, thanks, or (just) thanks. It was a large plane with very good quality medical supplies and I said I would accept it. This could save many lives, “he noted, in response to Democratic criticism.

The Kremlin propaganda machine took the opportunity to sell the gesture as humanitarian aid sent to the United States, despite the fact that relations are at their worst since the end of the Cold War, and a new shipment was announced shortly. plane bound for New York, epicenter of the epidemic.

All in all, it later became clear that Russian assistance was not free, although Trump himself called it aid. While the Russian Foreign Ministry reported that the parties shared the expenses, the State Department acknowledged that it had bought the Russian equipment, although at a price below the market.

The controversy contributed to the information that the aid had been channeled by an investment fund and a company sanctioned since 2015 due to Russian interference in Ukraine.

“The United States agreed to buy medical protection equipment that we badly needed from Russia … It is time to work together to defeat a common enemy that threatens the lives of all of us,” said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. .


No matter how hard Russia tries to present aid as humanitarian aid, many see it as a geopolitical ploy to reconcile with the West and wrest a withdrawal, albeit a partial one, from sanctions.

“With these planes, Russia shows that it is ready to cooperate, asks the West to be understanding and to lift sanctions, at least in the most important sectors,” Alexandr Petrov, historian and expert on Russian-American relations, told Efe today.

Petrov interprets the shipment to the United States as a “gesture of goodwill” that seeks to demonstrate that it is a “reliable partner” in times of difficulty, arguments with which the Kremlin hopes to win over western public opinion.

“It must be acknowledged that Russia is also sacrificing itself, as it has sent masks and medical equipment that are needed in many regions of the country to the US. Regardless, Russian aid saves human lives,” he explains.

Although he does not put his hand on fire for an early lifting of sanctions, he believes that the policy, which he sees as Putin’s personal initiative, is profitable.

“Putin takes advantage of his relationship with Trump. The same thing happened with Roosevelt in World War II. He was an enemy of the Soviet Union, but he sent food and weapons to win the war and defeat fascism. Now, we also don’t know how long the pandemic will last and fighting against that invisible enemy. In this situation, the restrictions should be lifted, “he believes.


In addition, the expert directly links the coronavirus with limitations to commercial transactions and the dramatic drop in oil prices.

“Putin and Trump reached an agreement on the coronavirus and oil. Both things are closely related. Now, selling oil is not profitable,” he says.

And remember that while the setback for Russia and other exporters is greater than for the US economy, it is also expectant because of its impact on shale gas extraction.

If sanctions are not lifted, especially on projects like the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, added to the drop in the price of crude, Russia will have a lot of difficulty developing, according to Petrov.

But there are also experts who see aid to the West as a message for exclusive internal consumption: Russia added another 582 cases today and already has 4,731 positives and 43 deaths, but the epidemiological situation in western countries, where deaths are counted by thousands , It’s much worse.


Aid to the West, which includes assistance to Serbia, has also sparked criticism from the opposition to the Kremlin, whose leader, Alexei Navalni, reported at the time that the authorities were hiding the actual numbers of contagions.

“Russia has sold masks and medical equipment to the United States when doctors and nurses throughout our country lack masks and infect each other. It is horrible. Putin is crazy,” he wrote on the social network Twitter.

Meanwhile, the Alliance of Physicians, a healthcare union very critical of the authorities, lashed out at sending aid to the US, when it has spent weeks raising money to buy protective equipment for local medical personnel.

“It is a complete mockery,” he lamented.

The leader of that union, Anastasía Vasílieva, close to Navalni, was detained when she traveled 400 kilometers from Moscow to distribute a new shipment of equipment among the staff of a hospital in the Nizhny Novgorod region.

Vasílieva, who was detained for allegedly violating the quarantine, was released shortly thereafter, an incident that was denounced by Amnesty International, which criticized that the Russian authorities fear criticism of her people more than the coronavirus itself.

The Physicians Alliance not only accuses the government of minimizing the impact of the epidemic, but also of “lying openly” about the state of the health system and the alarming lack of equipment.

Ignacio Ortega


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