Russian foreign minister calls for unity in fighting virus

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s foreign minister on Tuesday angrily rejected Western claims that Moscow has used the coronavirus crisis to expand its political influence, saying the world needs unity to surmount the pandemic.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that suggestions from some in the West that Russia had opaque motives for helping Italy respond to the virus resulted from “Russophobia.”

Russia sent military medics and disinfection experts to Italy as virus infections and deaths surged there last month. A similar Russian team was later dispatched to Serbia.

During a conference call with reporters, Lavrov dismissed Western claims that the Kremlin provided the assistance hoping it would help persuade the European Union to lift sanctions against Russia.

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He also criticized those in the West who suggested that China should pay compensation for allegedly failing to provide early enough warnings about the country’s virus cases, which were reported in December.

“The claims that China must pay everyone for the outbreak and the alleged failure to give timely information about it cross all limits and go beyond any norms of decency,” Lavrov said, emphasizing that China has offered assistance to many nations.

Without mentioning the United States by name, Russia’s top diplomat also countered Washington’s criticism of the World Health Organization.

Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump accused the U.N. health agency of being “China-centric” and alleged that WHO officials had “criticized” his ban of travel from China as the new virus spread from the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

“I would warn against attempts to politicize the coronavirus outbreak, and that refers not only to the WHO’s role,” Lavrov said, adding that international response efforts should be pooled.

“It’s important to refrain from finger-pointing and realize that we face a common peril and we can only fight it together,” he added.

Lavrov pointed to Russia’s shipment of medical supplies to the United States earlier this month and said Moscow was ready to send more, if needed.

He noted that Trump told Russian President Vladimir Putin in a recent phone call that the U.S. could provide medical equipment to Russia once stocks are built up, praising the offer as a “partner-like approach.”

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