Russia says it has sent a military plane with medical equipment to the United States to help in its battle with the coronavirus outbreak.
Many critics of Moscow have warned that Russia is using aid -- it recently sent planeloads of supplies and dozens of experts to Italy -- as part of a campaign of disinformation and propaganda to sow fear abroad while bolstering Russian President Vladimir Putin at home.
Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump, who has touted his close relationship with Putin, has faced similar warnings at home from those concerned that Moscow is using such actions to gain influence and push Russia's efforts for relief from sanctions imposed for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Russia’s Rossia-24 state television channel showed the transport aircraft taking off on April 1 from a military base near Moscow.
Other footage from the plane showed stacks of boxes in the cargo hold. It was not clear what the boxes contained.
The shipment appears to be the result of a March 30 phone call between Trump and Putin, where the response to the virus pandemic was reportedly discussed.
“Trump gratefully accepted this humanitarian aid," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying late on March 31.
Washington has not confirmed the flight, but Trump spoke about receiving aid from Russia during a March 30 briefing.
News of the flight came on the same day that the Strategic Communications and Information Analysis Division of the European External Action Service (EEAS), the EU's foreign-policy arm, published a report warning of a disinformation campaign around the coronavirus outbreak by Russia and China.
The document is a follow-up to a report published last month by the EEAS that said pro-Kremlin media outlets "have been prominent in spreading disinformation about the coronavirus, with the aim to aggravate the public health crisis in Western countries, specifically by undermining public trust in national health-care systems."
“Hopefully someone will tell Trump that he’s playing right into a propaganda ploy,” Andrew Weiss, vice-president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Russia and Eurasia Program, said in a tweet.
U.S deaths in the coronavirus pandemic pushed past 4,000 as of early April 1, a day after Americans were told to brace for "very painful" weeks ahead and a potential U.S. death toll well over 100,000.
The government is racing to build temporary hospitals near major cities to ease the strain on health-care facilities as officials predict things will get much worse in the coming weeks.
In Russia, where the accuracy of official data has been questioned, the number of confirmed cases has jumped in recent days, but still appears low compared with other European nations.
With masks and other medical equipment reportedly in short supply in Russia, some critics are also asking how Moscow can be sending supplies abroad.
The country’s official tally puts the total number of cases at 2,777 as of midday on April 1, with 24 deaths.