When the Antonov cargo jet departed from Reno on April 1st, it kicked up such a cloud of dust that locals called the fire department reporting a wildfire. While there’s no official confirmation, it’s possible the Russian AN124 carried a delivery similar to the ventilators, masks and respirators that landed the same day in the same kind of plane at JFK International, an offer accepted days earlier by President Trump from President Putin. Or, as U.S. media call it, “a public relations coup for the Kremlin.”
At least State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus took it well, saying, “This is a time to work together to overcome a common enemy that threatens the lives of all of us.”
Imagine that. You’d think ISIS might have helped us arrive at the concept, but it took a different virus. Better late than never, they say, though sanity rarely plants roots in American politics.
Witness former diplomat Brett McGurk’s reaction: “Nothing to see here. Just a Russian military aircraft landing at JFK with 60 tons of medical supplies to support America’s #COVID19 response. A propaganda bonanza as our own government shrinks from America’s leadership role in a global crisis,” Reuters quoted, itself adding that “Russia has also used its military to send planeloads of aid to Italy … exposing the European Union‘s failure to provide swift help to a member in crisis and handing Putin a publicity coup at home and abroad.”
The implication, in addition to Russia‘s participation in humanity being mostly a publicity stunt, is that the use of military planes for the medical supplies is an intimidation tactic, a veiled military op. Unlike, say, “DEFENDER-Europe 20” that’s been going on for months, “a U.S.-led multinational exercise,” reads NATO’s public relations page, “the largest deployment of U.S.-based forces to Europe in more than 25 years.” and the first-ever division-size mobilization on former Soviet territory.
One almost worries that by stepping up to the plate during this pandemic, Russia risks putting itself back into our crosshairs, as anything constructive from it is inherently suspect. Recall what happened when it showed us up on ISIS in recent years: the more of our enemies Russia neutralized, the louder the anti-Russian pitch became, culminating in late Sen. John McCain’s 2017 meltdown declaring Vladimir Putin a bigger threat than ISIS.
Predetermined as Enemy No. 1, Russia must constantly come up with proof-of-humanity, only to have it negated as a ploy. Whatever self-promoting element may be involved, it’s one the West has thrust upon it. Hopefully, what Russian goodwill can’t seem to achieve, COVID-19 will, for starters by having put a snag into the 19-nation “DEFENDER” exercises, which were supposed to climax last month. Instead, “As of March 13, all movement of personnel and equipment from the United States to Europe has ceased,” announced a March 17th press release from Stuttgart, Germany, our best friend ever since Russia helped us defeat it and now “the heart of NATO,” as Secretary Jens Stoltenberg calls it. “With this decision, we continue to preserve the readiness of our force while maximizing our efforts to advance our alliances and partnerships.”
Alliances and partnerships in which we’re the helpers rather than those that help us, as one with Russia would.
Some hope seemed to come from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who on April 1st tweeted, “We have to work together to defeat #COVID19. This is why the U.S. agreed to purchase urgently needed personal protective equipment from #Russia to help #FEMA respond in New York City.”
Then again, the message rings of protestation that this is just a short-term cooperation in extraordinary circumstances. One shudders at the thought of what things may come after the pandemic passes, given the emphasis that the virus is the only glue holding us together. It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve gotten what we needed or wanted out of a country then attacked it anyway. (See Yugoslavia or Libya, where we overthrew Muammar Gadhafi after he had abandoned WMDs, was delisted as a terror sponsor, and had “compensated the victims of the Lockerbie bombing, and posed no threat to the United States,” constitutional scholar Bruce Fein pointed out in a 2016 Huffington Post article).
Indeed, lest Russia get too comfortable in human skin, a day earlier Mr. Pompeo accused China, Iran and Russia of engaging “in ‘disinformation campaigns’ about the coronavirus … to sow ‘confusion’ about its origins,” Newsweek reported, adding some familiar language about the EU “monitoring alleged Russian efforts … to undermine public confidence in Western health systems.” It was a reference to a Brussels report which the March 18th U.K. Daily Express summed up as Russia “plotting to boost the coronavirus death toll across Europe by launching a fake news campaign.”
The par-for-the-course allegations didn’t seem to flap Mr. Putin, who proceeded to propose a unified Russia-U.S. anti-coronavirus effort, and after talking to cosmonauts last week at the International Space Station, he called the satellite “a clear example of the effective partnership of our countries in the interests of all mankind.”
But back on Earth, the Russian assistance to Italy set off alarm bells among U.S. intelligence and expert classes, with a CIA assessment warning of a “potential shift in the global balance of power favoring Russia” (which it lumps in with China), because Italy is a “U.S.-led NATO Western military alliance member,” Newsweek reported, and “in neighboring NATO-member France, a Russian Antonov-124 delivered 10 million face masks ordered from China.” The horror.
Referring to Russian assistance as a “campaign,” the article went on to explain that the country is “using the pandemic” to position itself as a world leader “while the United States turns its focus to domestic matters.” A senior intelligence official told the publication that Russia “will advance attempts to undermine U.S. efforts to maintain strategic partnerships and alliances by providing essential medical equipment, PPE, and tests to countries … while pointing out that the United States is unable to respond due to their own incompetence and inability to handle a pandemic.”
You don’t have to be Russian, Chinese or treasonous to point that out, as Tucker Carlson’s March 30th tongue-lashing attests:
From 2003 to 2015, at least 10 separate government reports warned that in [a pandemic] America would suffer a critical lack of ventilators. Congress, which is thrilled to spend millions bombing Syria based on grainy cellphone video, never bothered to fix that problem … Instead, our leaders spent enormous sums of your tax money improving the health care in [Afghanistan] … $37 million of your dollars went to improving its pharmaceutical … supply-chain management … [while] our own country’s pharmaceutical supply chain was dangerously dependent on China. … Congress ignored that and continued to shovel money into Afghanistan … In at least a couple of cases, we paid for medical facilities that never even existed … Then on March 12th of this year … a newspaper in New Jersey reported what it called shocking shortages of essential medical supplies in state hospitals … Yet that very same day, the United States Agency for International Development announced it was sending 12,000 surgical masks, 12,000 surgical gloves, and 1,400 surgical gowns to Tajikistan … Similar shipments went to Uzbekistan, Thailand, Laos, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Not only are none of these places in America, they’re not even in crisis.
Four of those are, however, in Russia‘s orbit, and not Christian. As Germany processes the four Tajik ISIS members it arrested last week for planning attacks on U.S. bases, and as we nevertheless continue to help Russia‘s Muslim neighbors while Orthodox Russia helps us, the EU has its own priorities: “Officials are working closely with NATO and G7 governments to crack down on any attempts to discredit their response to the pandemic,” the Daily Express tabloid reported without raising an eyebrow.
The EU‘s fellow-traveling media in expatriate U.K. should take a page from the target country of that crackdown, whose RT website last month advised, “The coronavirus pandemic is already too real a challenge for the world to chase a phantom one.” Deputy editor Anna Belkina continued, “For the first time in ages, from South Korea to Russia to Italy to the US, we are together in laughing at toilet paper memes, crying about sick loved ones and worrying about short-term social isolation and long-term economic impact. This is the time to embrace truly global understanding, cooperation and support.”
For his part, the air traffic controller at JFK was heard by Newsweek reporters telling the arriving Russian crew: “We sincerely thank you for all the assistance you are bringing in.”
Julia Gorin was a Soviet Refusenik who came to the U.S. in 1976. She is editor of “Hillarisms: The Unmaking of the First Female President.”