From Russia with love?

US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — Russia is accused of spreading misinformation in Europe and spreading distrust over the coronavirus pandemic, and was skeptical of its actions to help the United States and Italy – the two most affected countries.

However, VTB President and Chairman Andrei Kostin said on Monday in an interview with CNBC that Russia does not expect anything in return for its recent assistance to Italy, which sent medical personnel to the country , mechanical ventilation apparatus, masks and protective suits.

“We are not enemies, we are friends for the West, for Europe, for America,” he said on Squawk Box Europe’s business news program on CNN.

“Of course, we cannot solve the problems of Italy or other countries, but where we can show our support and provide real assistance, we will do it.”

On trucks with equipment that Russia sent to Italy in a virus-infected state in March, it read: “From Russia with love.”
However, this gesture may have led to the opposite results, since the Italian newspaper La Stampa, citing unnamed political sources, wrote that 80% of the equipment sent was not very useful or even useless.

The Russian Ministry of Defense reacted indignantly to this article, saying that the newspaper “manipulated Russophobic fakes” in it. The Italian authorities in every possible way thanked Russia for its help, while protecting their journalists and their right to freedom of speech.

From Russia with love

Already there have been suggestions that Russian aid was not entirely disinterested, that it was provided in order to push Europe towards the speedy lifting of sanctions imposed on Russia because of the annexation of Crimea. Italy, which is still somewhat ally of Russia, supports the lifting of the sanctions imposed in 2014 for Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its participation in organizing a pro-Russian rebellion in eastern Ukraine.

In Monday, in an interview with CNBC, the head of Europe and Central Asia at the Verisk Maplecroft consulting company, Daragh McDowell, said that Russia had sent medical assistance “not specifically to mitigate sanctions, and as part of a broader propaganda campaign to increase Russia’s reputation abroad and strengthen existing ties with specific states.”

He added that the decision to send medical care to Italy was most likely made in order to play in the pro-Russian mood of the right-wing party Liga, which could achieve good results in the next elections in Italy.

Russia also sent a cargo plane with medical equipment (which she called “humanitarian aid”) to the United States, and, according to McDowell, the “image” of Russian aircraft delivering aid to America, according to the Kremlin, will strengthen Putin’s authority in his own country.

“As reported, it was these ventilators that were sent to the United States that were manufactured by a subsidiary of Rostec state corporation, which is under sanctions. That is, by purchasing them, the United States legally violated their own sanctions,” he said.

However, these actions may turn against the Kremlin, McDowell added, given that the epidemic in Russia is only just beginning, and she may need this equipment herself.

“A serious pandemic outbreak (in Russia), which will cause high morbidity and mortality, will be impossible to hide,” he said. “In this scenario, the view of the Russian planes delivering medical equipment abroad, which the Kremlin is now using to create the impression of its global influence, is likely to become an obstacle when communicating with an angry public.”
Negative reaction

The European Union (EU) has also accused Russian media of launching a “widespread disinformation campaign” against the West. An EU document published on March 18 by Reuters reported that the campaign aims to present the effects of coronavirus in a worse light, cause panic and sow distrust. The article says that since January 22, nearly 80 cases of the spread of misinformation about coronavirus have been recorded in the EU database. Russia has denied these allegations, calling them unfounded.

However, the charges do not stop. On Monday, Britain accused Russia of spreading misinformation on the basis that Russian media reported that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was connected to a ventilator. The fact is that on Sunday evening, Johnson was hospitalized due to persistent symptoms of coronavirus (March 26 was a positive result of his test for coronavirus). On Monday evening, it became known that Johnson was transferred to intensive care, although the government officially stated that he was conscious and not connected to the ventilator.

According to Kostin, Russia is not particularly optimistic about the possible impact of COVID-19, given the speed and scale of the spread of the virus in Europe, but added that Russia took tough measures in a timely manner.

However, not everyone agrees with this, since the regime of self-isolation in Moscow was introduced only a week ago, later than measures were taken, in large areas in Europe and the United States.

Despite this, Russia – a country with a population of about 145 million people – reports a small number of cases of coronavirus infection compared to its European neighbors.

According to the Johns Hopkins University, which collects information on the spread of the virus worldwide, 6343 cases of the disease have been confirmed in Russia and 47 deaths have been recorded. The real number of cases of coronavirus in Russia, as in other countries, is likely to be much larger, given the limited possibilities for mass testing and the possible underestimation of data on the number of cases.

However, Russia’s economic growth in 2020 is likely to decline. The Central Bank of Russia predicted economic growth in 2020 by about 1.5% -2%, but on March 30, Central Bank analysts said that “in the coming months, they expect a temporary, but significant decrease in economic activity” due to the outbreak of coronavirus and a sharp drop in prices for oil.

According to Kostin, it is currently difficult to determine what impact this virus will have on the economy.

“It is impossible to predict how much this will affect us, because for the first time in history the cause of the economic crisis is not economic, but related to the virus. The longer this pandemic lasts for us, the more serious will be its impact on the banking sector and other sectors of the economy, ”he said.

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