6 May 2020 16:49

Russia to begin withdrawing its military specialists helping Italy fight Covid-19 on May 7 - Shoigu

MOSCOW. May 6 (Interfax) - Russian military specialists helping Italy counter the spread of Covid-19 will begin leaving Italy on May 7, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said.

"We're starting the withdrawal of our radiation, chemical, and biological protection units from Italy tomorrow," Shoigu said during a conference call on Wednesday.

He asked the chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces to organize a welcome home ceremony for the Russian units returning from Italy.

"I'm also instructing you to forward me suggestions on awarding the distinguished servicemen, doctors, and all those who took part in disinfection efforts in cities and facilities in Italy," Shoigu said.

"Also, I'd like to thank the military builders who helped put eight multifunctional centers into operation ahead of schedule. The others will be commissioned before May 15," he said.

Interfax reported that Russian Defense Ministry planes airlifted eight medical brigades, around 100 military virologists and epidemiologists, diagnostic and disinfection equipment, and one of the Russian Radiation, Biological, and Chemical Protection Troops' 15 laboratories to Italy in March.

By sending military specialists to Italy to help it counter the spread of Covid-19, Russia was not seeking to sow discord within NATO and the European Union, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said last Saturday.

"When we extend assistance to someone, to some country, to some people, we don't have any hidden goals in our pocket, somewhere behind the scenes to sow discord or cause a collapse of unity," Fomin said in an interview with the Russian Defense Ministry's Zvezda television channel.

"We prefer not to pay attention to all this noise and propaganda. We view it as an element of some unfair political, informational struggle - accusations that Russia allegedly tried to split the close-knit lines of NATO and the European Union by such actions," he said.

NATO and the EU were unable to help Italy at a difficult time, Fomin said.

On April 2, the Russian Defense Ministry denied reports from some Italian media outlets that the military specialists helping Italy fight Covid-19 include "biological warfare specialists" and military intelligence representatives.