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US confirms arrival of Russian plane with purchased virus supplies

John F. Kennedy International Airport (Chmpgnrose/WikiCommons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The United States has confirmed the arrival of a plane carrying medical supplies that it says were purchased from Russia to help fight the coronavirus outbreak, raising questions over the motives behind the move.

The supplies, including ventilators and personal protection equipment needed in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, were handed over on April 1 in New York to the U.S. emergency management agency, the U.S. State Department said in a statement.

State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus described the purchase as a “follow-up” to a March 30 phone call between U.S. President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

The statement did not say how much the United States paid Russia for the equipment, which Moscow has described as “aid” in a thinly veiled attempt to hand Putin a public relations coup.

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“Both countries have provided humanitarian assistance to each other in times of crisis in the past and will no doubt do so again in the future,” Ortagus said. “This is a time to work together to overcome a common enemy that threatens the lives of all of us.”

Many critics of Moscow have warned that Russia is using aid as part of a campaign of disinformation and propaganda to sow fear abroad while bolstering Putin at home.

Meanwhile, Trump, who has touted his close relationship with Putin, has faced similar warnings at home from those concerned that Moscow is using such actions to gain influence and push Russia’s efforts for relief from sanctions imposed for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Ortagus did note that the Group of 20 (G20) counties agreed last week to work together to defeat the coronavirus. The United States and Russia are in the G20, and Ortagus said Washington was working closely with all G20 states and other countries “to ensure that critically needed supplies get to those in need.”

‘Difficult Situation’

A U.S. official said quoted by Reuters as saying the shipment carried 60 tons of ventilators, masks, respirators, and other items.

The official said the equipment would be carefully examined to make sure it complies with quality requirements of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Russia’s deputy UN ambassador, Dmitry Polyansky, said the shipment was a “good gesture of solidarity with New Yorkers who are in a very difficult situation at the moment,” according to the Russian UN Mission on Twitter.

Interfax quoted Polyansky as saying that, while nothing has been agreed, it “is not ruled out” that further shipments may follow.

Kremlin critics questioned why Moscow would send equipment abroad at a time when there are questions as to whether there are enough supplies to meet the country’s needs.

“I thought this was a stupid April Fool’s joke but turns out it’s true. Russia really did SELL the U.S. masks and medical equipment at a time when doctors and nurses all over the country are working without masks and infecting one another. It’s monstrous. Putin’s mad,” said opposition leader and vocal Putin critic Alexei Navalny.

U.S deaths in the coronavirus pandemic pushed past 5,100 as of early April 2, two days after Americans were told to brace for “very painful” weeks ahead.

New York is by far the hardest-hit U.S. state, with more than 83,700 coronavirus cases and nearly 2,000 deaths.

Local officials have sounded the alarm over a shortage of protective gear and life-saving equipment. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has said millions more face masks and thousands more ventilators are needed by next week.

Meanwhile, Trump, who has touted his close relationship with Putin, has faced similar warnings at home from those concerned that Moscow is using such actions to gain influence and push Russia’s efforts for relief from sanctions imposed for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

U.S deaths in the coronavirus pandemic pushed past 4,000 as of early April 1, a day after Americans were told to brace for “very painful” weeks ahead.

In Russia, where the accuracy of official data has been questioned, the number of confirmed cases has jumped in recent days, but still appears low compared with other European nations.

The country’s official tally puts the total number of cases at 3,548 as of April 2, with 30 deaths.