Italy says it can't use some of Russia's coronavirus aid

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Much of the Russian aid that has arrived in Italy to combat the spread of coronavirus is of little use, say senior politicians in Rome.

Military vehicles with Russian flags carried the aid on its 600-kilometre journey from an Italian airbase south of Rome to Lombardy, the region worst affected in the world by Covid-19.

Footage of the convoy was shared on social media along with images of Russian military doctors dressed in fatigues poring over maps with Italian colleagues.

But the expedition has been interpreted in the Italian media as a public relations stunt.

Senior political sources told the Italian newspaper La Stampa that 80 per cent of the Russian equipment was of little use to Italy.

The aid, emblazoned with stickers stating “From Russia with love”, has been compared unfavourably with that arriving from China.

Beijing sent much-needed masks and ventilators along with doctors who had battled the coronavirus in Wuhan.

Russia seems to have mostly sent supplies for countering chemical or biological warfare, including a field laboratory for chemical-bacterial sterilisation.

The Russian experts who accompanied the aid are specialists in biological and chemical weapons, led by Gen Serget Kikot, the mission’s head and an authority on anthrax.

A Spanish soldier stands next to beds set up at a temporary hospital for vulnerable people at the Fira Barcelona Montjuic centre in Barcelon. AFP

A deserted Waterloo station in London, Britain. EPA

People walk through a nearly empty Times Square in New York, USA. EPA

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Medical workers wearing protective gears work, at the level intensive care unit for patients contaminated with coronavirus COVID-19 at Erasme Hospital in Brussels. AFP

Aerial view showing almost empty streets in Bogota, taken during the lockdown ordered by the government to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. AFP

Auxiliary bishop of Lyon Emmanuel Gobilliard holds a streamed live Mass in the empty Saint-Irenee church, in Lyon on the eighth day of a lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the virus. AFP

A health worker carries a body on a stretcher outside Gregorio Maranon hospital in Madrid. AFP

Riot police walk towards drivers and workers related to the public transport blocking a street in Tegucigalpa as they protest against "an absolute curfew" decreed by the government to force the population to isolate themselves in their homes and curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. AFP

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Cao Junjie poses for a picture with his two-month old baby inside a safety pod he created to protect his baby from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at a residential compound in Shanghai, China. REUTERS

French President Emmanuel Macron wears a face mask during his visit at the military field hospital in Mulhouse, eastern France. AP

Birds perch on a gate where a police officer stands guard outside the Justice Palace court, during a government order for residents to stay home to help contain the spread of the new coronavirus, in Bogota, Colombia. AP Photo

In all, nine IL-76 transport aircraft carrying the aid landed in Italy as part of a deal between Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Russian President Vladimir Putin on March 21.

The arrangements were finalised by the Italian and Russian defence ministers.

Russia’s ambassador to Italy, Sergei Razov, was scathing of the criticism.

“Such assertions are the product of a perverse mind,” Mr Razov said. “A selfless desire to help a friendly people in trouble is seen as insidious.”Francesco Galietti, chief executive of the political risk consultancy Policy Sonar in Rome, told The National that there was nothing surprising about Russia’s decision to help Italy.

Mr Galietti said Moscow was simply countering China’s moves in a country where it has had influence since for decades.

“Russia is just defending its home turf,” he said. “Russia is competing against China on this.

“This whole crisis is exposing trends that have been under way for far too long.

“Yes we are a member of the EU, yes we are a member of Nato, yes we are a member of the G7, but I think this government is flirting with China.”

A year ago, long before the global crisis posed by the coronavirus, Italy became the first G7 nation to join China’s Silk Road project, signing deals worth €2.5 billion (Dh10.14bn) with Beijing.

Now, as Italy has overtaken China as the nation worst hit by the coronavirus, Chinese specialist doctors and medical equipment have arrived ready to help.

The doctors bring with them first-hand experience of dealing with the Covid-19, having worked on the original outbreak in China’s Hubei province, which killed more than 3,000 people.

Huawei, the telecom giant, is among several Chinese companies that have donated supplies, such as masks and other protective equipment, to countries in Europe.

Even before the pandemic, Huawei was on a charm offensive, lobbying European nations to allow its involvement in the roll-out of 5G networks.

As the EU struggles to mount a coherent response to the rampant spread of coronavirus and the US looks to blame other nations for its own outbreak, China appears to be making significant soft-power progress.

Updated: March 27, 2020 12:58 AM

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