Germany, Russia, China and Cuba dispatch medics and supplies to Italy

Nations rally to help Italy: Germany, Russia, China and Cuba dispatch medics and supplies to coronavirus-stricken Rome… but Moscow’s aid is declared ‘useless’

  • Vladimir Putin sent 600 ventilators and 100 medics to Italy over the weekend
  • Over last 48 hours critically ill patients landed in Dresden, Leipzig and Frankfurt
  • China has sent experts and equipment, and last week 52 Cuban doctors arrived 
  • Italy announced 712 deaths yesterday, taking its total to 8,215, most in the world
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

Germany, Russia, China and Cuba have rallied around Italy, sending medics and supplies to the country with the most recorded coronavirus deaths in the world.

Vladimir Putin has dispatched 600 ventilators and 100 military virologists and epidemiologists following phone calls with the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte last Saturday.

At least 16 Italians requiring urgent medical care were flown to the German airports of Dresden, Leipzig and Frankfurt in the last 48 hours, as Rome declared it had more than 80,500 cases of COVID-19 and 8,215 deaths. Another 6,203 had become infected on Thursday, with 712 deaths, from 683 on Wednesday. 

China earlier this month sent its experts and medical equipment, while the Cubans sent a 52-strong force of doctors last week. But while the Italian government has publicly welcomed the medical aid, sources in Rome have warned that Russia’s efforts are an insidious soft power play. 

Yesterday two patients from Italy’s battered city of Bergamo, Lombardy, were flown in an Italian Hercules military plane to an airport in Dresden (pictured) to receive medical treatment from German experts

Russian specialists preparing for a departure to Italy at the Chkalovsky military airport outside Moscow

‘Eighty percent of Russian supplies are totally useless or of little use to Italy. In short, this is little more than a pretext,’ an unnamed government source told La Stampa. 

He said the Russians were attempting to gain geopolitical leverage in a care package dubbed ‘From Russia with Love,’ while Conte wanted to bolster relations with Moscow. 

Russia’s Ambassador to Italy Sergei Razov rebuked La Stampa’s report as ‘the product of a perverse mind.’ He said Russia’s aims were purely selfless.

Russia’s team led by Major-General Sergey Kikot, chief of the nuclear, biological and chemical protection unit, have vast experience in disaster management and have helped Africans fight Ebola.

They arrived in Rome on Sunday, according to The Times, before heading in a convoy of army trucks to Bergamo, the ravaged epicentre of the virus in Italy.

They will observe the harrowing intensive care units in Bergamo for a week before helping to man a new temporary hospital. Others are to disinfect old people’s homes.  

Cuba has sent its ‘armies of white robes’ to disaster sites around the world largely in poor countries since its 1959 revolution. Its doctors were in the front lines in the fight against cholera in Haiti and against ebola in West Africa in the 2010s (pictured: Doctors arrived from Cuba to help Italian healthcare for the Coronavirus emergency in Milan)

A team of 14 Chinese doctors, nurses and health experts arrive at the Careggi University Hospital in Florence, Italy. This delegation, whose members belong to the Fujian Provincial Health Commission, arrived on 25 March to train Italian health professionals across Tuscany and aid them in their efforts to mitigate the casualties of the pandemic

Russian gas imports help fuel Italy’s power plants and Rome has long called for a relaxation of EU sanctions imposed on Moscow over Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

The penalties have been repeatedly renewed while Moscow backed separatists elsewhere in Ukraine.

Rome denies the aid signals a merging of geopolitical interests.

‘There are no new geopolitical scenarios to trace, there is a country that needs help and other countries that are helping us,’ Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio was quoted as saying by Italy’s Il Corriere della Sera newspaper on Thursday.

‘It is not a question of a Cold War, it is a question of reality, or realpolitik, you call it what you like.’  

Russia’s government and its delegation to NATO have published multiple videos of trucks on their way to Bergamo, on their Twitter accounts while Russian state media showed Italy’s foreign minister personally welcoming the first Russian plane.

An Ilyushin IL-76 transport aircraft of Russian Ministry of Defense is prepared for departure to Italy at the Chkalovsky Military Airport outside Moscow on Sunday

Unloading of a Russian military transport plane which arrived at the Pratica di Mare Italian Air Force military airport some 20 miles south-west of Rome, Italy

Labelled ‘From Russia with Love’, planes and trucks bore giant stickers showing heart-shaped Russian and Italian flags next to one another.

By contrast, NATO airlifts of urgent medical supplies to European allies have not grabbed public attention. The European Union has faced delays obtaining face masks and other protective gear while EU governments have closed borders to one another.

NATO militaries are active flying sick patients to hospitals, delivering beds and repatriating citizens, although NATO has not deployed its own biological protection units.

Doctors arrived from Cuba to help Italian healthcare for the Coronavirus emergency in Milan, Malpensa airport on March 22

The 52-strong brigade of medics was the first Cuban team ever to be dispatched to Italy, one of the world’s richest countries

‘This is a big success story for Putin. I think the Italians have fallen into a trap,’ said a senior NATO diplomat, although he noted that Italy was now receiving more support directly from the alliance. Spain has also requested direct NATO help. 

Alexander Baunov, a senior fellow at the Moscow Carnegie Center, noted China and Cuba were also sending medical aid to Italy. ‘For countries that would like to see the existing world order revised in their favour, the pandemic is an opportunity,’ he said. 

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

Last week, an EU internal document seen by Reuters accused Russian media of deploying a ‘significant disinformation campaign’ against the West to worsen the impact of the coronavirus. Moscow denied any such plan.

A patient suffering from coronavirus is admitted to the Helios hospital in Leipzig, where medics are treating patients flown in from Italy 

Medical workers wearing face masks and protective suits take a coronavirus patient to the Helios hospital in Leipzig yesterday after the patient was flown in from Italy 

While not mentioning Russia by name, the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in his blog this week that the EU needed to be more aware of ‘a struggle for influence through spinning and the politics of generosity’.

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

When asked if Russia expected Italy to return the favour by trying to get EU sanctions lifted, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the notion as absurd.

‘We’re not talking about any conditions or calculations or hopes here,’ he said on Monday. ‘Italy is really in need of much more wide scale help and what Russia does is manageable.’ 

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