Russian Help to Italy Declared ‘Useless’

For several weeks Italy has been struggling with a huge rise in the number people infected by Coronavirus. With more than 9,000 dead (at the time of publications) and its medical infrastructure stretched to capacity, the country accepted an offer of aid from the Russian Federation.

On 25th March, Russian military transport aircraft landed in Rome. A convoy of military trucks moved North towards Bergamo in order to help the Italian medical care facilities which are struggling the most with the outbreak. With Italian military is already involved in maintaining the countries imposed lockdown and the grim logistical task of transporting the bodies out of cities. The Russian aid seemed to be of key importance.
According to Russian media sources Russia sent 600 ventilators and 100 military virologists and epidemiologists to Italy following talks between President Vladimir Putin and Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. last Saturday.

However, Italy’s La Stampa reported that according to sources on the ground, in the regions the Russian aid mission has headed, as much as 80% of the supplies brought to Italy by Russia are ‘useless’. The Turin-based daily newspaper raised some ire in Russia with the accusation with Russia Today calling it ‘ingratitude’. According to La Stampa, the aid is largely useless, reporting that “80% are absolutely useless or of little use for Italy. In short, it is little more than a pretext.”

Russian vehicles off-loading in Rome (Russian Defence Ministry / Alexey Ereshko)

In this case, a question has to be asked – what did the Russians bring to Italy? As the aid is provided by the Russian Ministry of Defense, not the Ministry of Health, Russian forces brought mainly disinfection equipment, field laboratories for sterilization and chemical-bacteriological prevention. In contrast to Chinese aid, which consisted mostly of personal protection gear, masks, sanitizers, and ventilators, such equipment as a field disinfection station is reportedly of less use.

More concerns can be raised as the Russian aid workers, military personnel, have been allowed to move freely across Italy, a NATO member state. With Russia’s secret intelligence services highly active across Europe, the aid mission may be a difficult opportunity for them to pass up. The aid mission has also been described by some commentators as a PR exercise. Regardless of Russia’s aims, with such a proposal to Italy Putin placed the Italian government between the hammer and the anvil. To deny Russia’s offer of assistance at this difficult time may have provoked a negative reaction amongst the exhausted Italian people.

Russian military trucks with Russian & Italian flag motifs (Russian Defense Ministry)

Whether the proposal of Vladimir Putin was a purely political decision, the situation in Italy is still critical. With the outbreak spreading to other countries we can observe a full mobilization of armed forces all around the globe, with field hospitals being set up and military logistics being pulled in. Will these military efforts slow down the death rate? There is still hope, but the situation is serious across Europe.