As the COVID-19 pandemic becomes the central issue for governments across the globe, great powers use medical supplies as a means of exerting influence. While Russia and the United States sent masks abroad, their own hospitals continue to suffer from shortages. But Washington seems to shift its approach.
Disregarding the PR boost for Kremlin, the US bought 60 tons of medical equipment from Russia. President Trump stated that he is happy with the delivery, is “not concerned about Russian propaganda”, and will accept any future shipments. US officials also mentioned that the supplies have been sold below market value. This might signal great PR victory for Kremlin, more so because by supplying equipment made by a company sanctioned by US Russia is making Americans violate these sanctions themselves. Putin’s press secretary presented this act as a humanitarian aid rather than a sale, underscoring Russia’s role as an aiding benefactor.
Ensuring domestic supplies now seems to take precedence not only to the PR competition but also to relations with allies, as Trump banned the export of medical materials to all foreign countries. Also, French officials reportedly stated that a shipment of masks from China to France has been instead bought by US buyers, who offered three times what Paris was paying. However, senior US official categorically denied this claim and one of the mentioned French officials later tweeted that France has gotten its shipment, even though hijacking of supplies is a common practice.
While other countries accept damage to international relations as an acceptable cost for acquiring medical supplies, the role of the US as a global superpower gives these actions much wider dimensions. “America first” has always been the staple of Trump’s administration and coronavirus crisis may hasten the change in Washington’s course from its role as the world policeman towards domestic interest.
In turn, the door is once again opening to the Russian influence. Moscow has already sent shipments to the EU countries, especially to Italy. Though a large portion of the equipment was, as an anonymous Italian official said to La Stampa newspaper, useless, the official numbers nevertheless help to improve Russian prestige across Europe. Striking message sends even the presence of Russian military personal in a NATO country, near US air bases. As the US is stepping back, we will likely see Russia stepping up in this PR contest.
STRATPOL Memos is a project which on a weekly basis provides a short overview of the most important selected moments of Euro-Atlantic security and related areas. Our goal is to provide brief and informative comments with short analysis putting news into a broader context.
Responsible editor Matúš Jevčák.
Author: Martin Fornůsek
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