By Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Andrew Osborn
MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian medical equipment delivery to the United States to help fight the coronavirus drew anger from critics of the Kremlin on Thursday who pointed out that Russia was itself experiencing severe shortages of such items.
A Russian military plane carrying protective gear and ventilators landed in New York City on Wednesday. The Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow had paid half the cost with the other half picked up by Washington.
Critics of President Vladimir Putin said the delivery was a publicity stunt that squandered precious medical resources which Russia’s regions are lacking.
“Russia has actually sold the United States masks and medical equipment when doctors and nurses across the country are left without masks and are infecting one another,” prominent opposition politician Alexei Navalny wrote on Twitter.
“It’s monstrous. Putin is crazy.”
The Kremlin has cast the move as a goodwill gesture at a time when it says all nations need to unite to take on coronavirus and said it hopes Russia might be able to access U.S. medical equipment in future if necessary.
“There is always criticism like this”, Interfax news agency quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying.
Russia has so far recorded 3,548 coronavirus infections in 76 of its more than 80 regions. Thirty people have died across the country, authorities say.
The Health Ministry said on Wednesday it was pleased with Russian regions’ readiness to tackle the virus. But some say they are experiencing shortages of the most basic equipment.
Doctors at a hospital in the Moscow region told the Novaya Gazeta newspaper they had been asked to sew their own masks, while state television in Bashkortorstan, a region about 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) east of Moscow, last month showed viewers how to make their own masks because pharmacies had run out.
The Alliance of Doctors, a trade union for medical workers which is often critical of the authorities, said it had been collecting money across Russia to buy protective gear for doctors and was distraught to see the country now shipping the same equipment to the United States.
“It’s just making a mockery of everything,” the trade union wrote on Twitter.
Another Russian Twitter user pointed out that while ventilators had landed in New York, similar shipments were not reaching needy Russian cities such as Saratov and Voronezh.
Russia’s Health Ministry said on Thursday that the country had enough ventilators to meet its current needs and that hospitals would receive another 8,000 by the end of May.
Russia’s delivery has angered some people in the United States too. Former U.S. diplomat Brett McGurk was among those criticising President Donald Trump for serving up what he called “a propaganda bonanza” to Putin.
Moscow has also flown several flights carrying medical supplies to Italy, which has recorded more than 13,000 dead. Several European Union and NATO officials characterised the aid as a geopolitical move to extend Russian influence in Europe.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; editing by Philippa Fletcher)