Russia amends 2020-2022 budget to fund Putin's initiatives. Image Source: IANS News

Moscow, April 5 : Medical aid sent by Russia to Italy and the US has sparked criticism and suspicion that Moscow was trying to improve its image and get sanctions lifted, a media report said.

President Vladimir Putin offered humanitarian aid - 15 planes, more than 1,000 ventilators and 100 doctors - to Italy, one of the worst-hit countries in Europe, when the pandemic had barely hit Russia and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte accepted the offer, the Efe news report said.

Containers on military aircraft bore the slogan "From Russia with love" as they were transported to Italy, which has advocated for the lifting of sanctions and a normalisation of relations between the Kremlin and the European Union.

Some media, such as the Italian newspaper La Stampa, reported that most of the aid was not useful, while others warned of the presence of so many Russian soldiers in NATO territory.

Next Putin offered to send 60 tonnes of respirators, ventilators, and face masks to the US and President Donald Trump accepted the proposal, calling it a "nice gesture".

Although the Kremlin described it as aid it later emerged that the Russian assistance was not free and that the two countries had split the cost.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that his country had agreed to pay for the supplies and added: "This is a time to work together to overcome a common enemy that threatens the lives of all." Critics have accused Russia of trying to present the shipments as humanitarian aid in a ploy to improve international relations and get a partial withdrawal of sanctions.

Alexander Petrov, historian and expert on Russian-American relations, told Efe: "With these planes, Russia shows that it is ready to cooperate, asks the West to be understanding and to lift sanctions, at least in the most important sectors." If sanctions against Russia are not lifted, especially on projects like the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, along with the decline in the price of crude, Russia will have a lot of difficulties, according to Petrov.

Responding to the criticisms, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "Such criticism is always around, but at the same time, international cooperation in the fight against coronavirus is a very important dimension of any country's activity, and a necessary dimension as well, because without international cooperation, no country alone can effectively fight the coronavirus." Russia reported 582 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, taking the overall tally to over 4,700, with 43 deaths.

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