What Does From Russia With Love Really Mean
Russia’s latest gesture in the coronavirus crisis came in the form of medical supplies arriving in New York – part of an operation dubbed “from Russia with love” by the Kremlin.
In late March a similar cargo was flown to Italy – the worst-hit country in the crisis – along with 100 Russian military medics.
Russian media speak of widespread gratitude for this generosity, but how much of that is fact, how much fiction?
Is Russia exploiting this crisis?
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweetedÂ that the US had paid for the Russian supplies, and that “we have to work together to defeat #COVID19”.
The US says the delivery was agreed in a phone conversation between President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin a few days ago.
The Russian foreign ministry says the US paid for half of the supplies, and the other half was donated by Russia.
But Russian TV channels call the cargo “aid” and make no reference to payment.
A report by Gazprom Media’s NTV described how excited JFK airport staff filmed the Russian plane, took selfies next to it and thanked the pilots and President Putin.
New York is a coronavirus hotspot and the US death toll has risen above 5,000, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Russia has imposed a lockdown similar to those in the US and Europe, to limit the spread of Covid-19 disease.
In the past 24 hours, Russia registered 771 new infections – its highest figure so far – bringing the total to 3,548 current cases and 30 deaths.
Russians have been sent home from work, but will still be paid – a measure now extended by President Putin until 30 April.
Russia needled by criticism
The medical aid for Italy certainly received official thanks, but there was some scepticism too about Russia’s intentions.
Italian newspaper La Stampa said, according to its sources, the aid had little practical value and was more like a geopolitical opportunity for Mr Putin. It went so far as to brand 80% of the delivery “useless”.
When asked about that, Russia’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, reacted angrily, saying “groundless criticism and lack of trust for the assistance that Russia provides to Italy is cynical, immoral and cruel to those who are fighting for their lives”.
He added: “Those who politicise our readiness to provide assistance to people in the Apennines don’t know history very well. They should be reminded about Russian sailors who landed in Sicily in 1908 after the devastating earthquake there.”
Russian media have applauded the aid to Italy with headlines like “Thank you for extending a helping hand” and “USA and Europe should learn a lesson”.
Cold War tensions, like those in the 1963 James Bond spy movie From Russia With Love, have clearly not gone away.
Italian Defence Minister Lorenzo Guerini did thank Russia officially as did, unofficially, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a friend of Vladimir Putin.
An Italian pop singer spoke a few words of Russian, when interviewed by Tass news agency. Another one sang a popular Russian song in a Facebook video.
But Russian state media conveyed the impression of mass support for Russia in Italy.
Controversial anthem videos
State channels, pro-Kremlin websites and Telegram channels talked about ordinary Italians replacing EU flags with Russian ones and singing the Russian anthem on balconies.
To prove that, however,Â there was just one video and one man: Federico Cane.
BBC Russian spoke to Mr Cane. He is an engineer, who says he is personally fond of Russia and of President Putin.
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He has done some business with Russian companies and he put up a Russian flag as personal thanks for the medical aid.
What Does From Russia With Love Really Mean
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