Russian foreign minister calls for unity in fighting virus

International

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attends a joint press conference with his Finnish counterpart Pekka Haavisto in the House of the Estates in Helsinki, Finland, Tuesday March 3, 2020. (Markku Ulander/Lehtikuva via AP)

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.

The U.S. and EU sanctions, imposed in response to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea and support for a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine, have limited Russia’s access to global financial markets and blocked transfers of Western technologies. Russia responded by banning imports of most Western agricultural products.

Asked if Moscow would push the EU to lift the restrictions, Lavrov said that Russia wouldn’t ask for it.

“If the EU realizes that this method has exhausted itself and renounces the decisions that were made in 2014, we will be ready to respond in kind,” he added.

Lavrov 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. “My hair stands on end when I hear that.”

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, but also to accusations aired against certain countries,” 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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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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