It was reported on Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin had dispatched a shipment of medical supplies to the United States, following a phone conversation earlier in the week with President Trump. A follow-on statement from the U.S. Department of State revealed the medical supplies had been purchased from Russia. Reportedly, medical aid from other countries had also been requested, but further information regarding these requests remains forthcoming.

The Kremlin sent an Antonov-124, the world’s largest cargo plane, to New York’s JFK airport carrying ventilators, respirators, masks, and other medical equipment. Historical flight records of the same cargo aircraft reportedly reveal frequent flights to Syria conducting resupply operations of Russian forces at Latakia Airbase, also known as Hmeimim airport. Russia watchers are left scratching their heads at the move. The following Washington Post quote summarizing the proceedings speaks to the shock of this situation:

“The idea that Russia — under U.S. sanctions for its interference in the 2016 presidential election and its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 — [is] sending medical aid in a giant military aircraft to the most powerful nation on earth seem[s] astounding to some longtime Kremlin watchers.”

First, none of this commentary is intended to downplay, minimize, or critique any legitimate, sincere efforts — foreign aid included — to combat a serious crisis. However, the fact that foreign medical aid is being sent to the U.S. warrants critical analysis in its own right. The U.S. pandemic response has widely been criticized as lacking in responsiveness, leadership, and direction on the part of the current administration. The fact that Russia, under U.S. sanctions, is publicly touting their delivery of “humanitarian aid” to their “Main Enemy” makes the need for critical analysis even more pressing.

Last month, Putin approved measures that would see him remain in power till 2036. The Russian oligarch is in need of a boost in ratings and a return to good graces in Russian popular opinion. This must be considered in assessing his offer of aid to the U.S., regardless of whether or not it was a purchase transaction. Further, some analysts suggest that this move was extended as part of a public show designed to provide Putin with greater leverage to eventually appeal for an ease of U.S. sanctions.

As the argument stands, if Russia were not superior to the U.S. in some manner, why would it be sending humanitarian aid to the U.S., and why would the U.S. be accepting it? While a relatively simple and seemingly kind gesture at face value, the manipulative ability of Putin to outmaneuver and out-scheme public opinion both domestically and abroad, must be strongly emphasized.

At some level, Putin’s ingenuity and self-serving opportunism must be applauded. The man’s acumen for thinking strategically, playing the “long game,” and using personal circumstances to obtain, maintain, and consolidate power in a post-Soviet environment is preeminent. His abilities are to be respected but also warily watched and very carefully managed. As SOFREP has previously reported, regarding ongoing Russian disinformation campaigns, election interference, sleeper cell spies, and other such active measures, Putin’s world view of the United States as Russia’s Main Enemy cannot be forgotten or overlooked.

Thanks for listening.

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