Anti-EU Sentiments Up in Italy as Russia and China Offer Coronavirus Aid

Nine Russian military planes landed in Italy on March 22 in an aid operation to the coronavirus pandemic in Italy.

From Russia With Love

“From Russia with Love” — as coined by Moscow —the Ilyushin Il-76 transport planes carried medics, medical supplies and equipment for diagnostics and disinfection as well as healthcare specialists in infectious diseases from Russia.

Italians Are Not Satisfied by the EU’s Coronavirus Response

A recent poll by Monitor Italia concluded that 88% of Italians think that the European Union has not done enough to assist their country. The same poll revealed that 67% of Italians now believe Italy’s membership with the EU to be a disadvantage — a major rise from 47% in November.

As of March 25, Italy has more than 75,000 cases of coronavirus, nearly as much as China’s 82,000 cases. The country has suffered more than 7,500 deaths, resulting in a fatality rate of 10%, more than double the global 4.5% fatality rate. Over half of the world’s coronavirus death toll has occurred in Italy and Spain, as their death tolls top the global rates.

Italy’s Chief of Defense Thanks Russia

“I would like to express my gratitude on behalf of the entire Italian people for Russian assistance at such a difficult moment,” Italy’s Chief of the Defense Staff, General Enzo Vecciarelli, who personally received the emergency aid said.

In Italy, hospital and medical staff are unable to meet up with patients’ medical needs. France and Germany initially refused to send face masks and other medical equipment to Italy, explaining that these supplies were needed in their countries. Although both countries later lifted these restrictions, with Paris sending Italy 1 million masks and 200,000 gowns, the EU, however, was unable to successfully communicate its u-turn.

“On the issue of solidarity, we had a narrative weakness,” an Elysee adviser told reporters. “Europe hasn’t, as a group, communicated enough on the concrete efforts it was making at the local or regional level towards one another. Germany has sent masks to Italy, France has sent masks to Italy, as many as China has so far.”

Germany is Also Helping Italy Cope With Its Crisis

On March 24, German hospitals with spare beds accepted their first Italian patients,” the adviser to President Emmanuel Macron continued. “A lot has been done, so we need to get out of this Europe-bashing, because that’s not right.

“Mistakes were made for sure, there was some flip-flopping, hesitations, but that’s the case everywhere in the world. When we see what’s going on in the United States today, Europe is not the continent that’s the least organised.”

With EU integration and cohesion currently dishevelled, Russia, Cuba and China have been accused of taking advantage to further their political aims. On March 23, the Kremlin denied that its aid was a plot to manipulate Rome to help lift EU sanctions on Moscow, sanctions imposed in 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea.

“We’re not talking about any conditions or calculations or hopes here,” Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov explained. “Italy is really in need of much more wide scale help and what Russia does is manageable,” he said.

“This is all about perception,” said Nathalie Tocci, director of the Italian Institute of International Affairs in Rome. “This medical help from Russia is nothing compared to the 750 billion euros of assets the ECB is going to buy. But it’s very hard to convey the importance of that to the public.”

Anti-Pandemic Efforts Double as Soft Power Moves

On March 22, more than 50 Cuban doctors and paramedics arrived in Milan to help a coronavirus-hit Italy. Today, the Cuban Medical Brigade is present in a total of 59 countries worldwide. Like Russia, the Latin American island has been accused of using its anti-pandemic efforts as a tool for lifting decades-long US sanctions against it.

One Cuban official described US sanctions as “the main obstacle not only to respond to major health crises like COVID-19, but the main obstacle to the country’s development at any area.”

“The lifting of the blockade against Cuba would have an extraordinarily positive impact on Cuba and mostly in the health sector, which has been one of the most damaged areas since the establishment of the blockade almost 60 years ago with more than 3 billion in economic losses,” the official added.

China, on the other hand, has not been subtle with using the pandemic to strengthen diplomatic and financial relations with Italy. President Xi Jinping, in a March-telephone call with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, reiterated that China wants to build a “Health Silk Road” to fight Italy’s pandemic-battle. Defying EU and American allies, Italy was the first G7 nation to endorse China’s $900 billion “One Belt One Road” New Silk Road project last year. At the signing ceremony with President Jinping, Prime Minister Giuseppe said that the agreement would “build a better relationship” between China and Italy.

Time to Work Together for the Greater Good

As leaders used the pandemic to forge diplomatic relations, the global, financial, health and humanitarian costs of Covid-19 grow increasingly higher, ensuring there would be no nations to lead if political chess games are not put aside for the greater good. A true measure of anti-pandemic global unity can be seen with Cuba, whose efforts in global healthcare has been proven in its decades-long consistence for promoting global and almost-free healthcare.

The mental strain the virus has wrought on Italy’s national identity cannot be left to be soothed by countries who stand to gain huge financial and political rewards at the dismemberment of the European Union. The EU must begin to effectively communicate its extensive assistance to Italy. At the same time, the Italian people must not give in to propaganda targeted against their own best interests.