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U.S. Lawmakers Criticize White House On Shipment Of Ventilators To Russia

A U.S. Air Force transport plane, carrying the first batch of medical aid from the United States, lands at Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow on May 21.
A U.S. Air Force transport plane, carrying the first batch of medical aid from the United States, lands at Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow on May 21.

U.S. congressional lawmakers have complained to the White House about the shipment of dozens of U.S.-built ventilators to Russia, saying the move was done without justification and could potentially deprive coronavirus-infected Americans of treatment.

The May 22 letter, signed by five Democratic lawmakers in the House of Representatives, was the latest development in the ongoing story of how and why medical supplies were shipped by Russia to the United States, and the reciprocal gesture made to Russia by the U.S. administration this week.

The State Department announced that around 200 ventilators, valued at around $5.6 million, were being sent to Russia in what was described as a "humanitarian donation." A military plane carrying the items arrived in Moscow on May 21.

In their letter to President Donald Trump, the lawmakers questioned the White House’s rationale for the shipment.

"It does not appear that your Administration has any policymaking process in place to determine whether these ventilators are going to the countries where they are needed most and whether their delivery will advance our national security," they wrote.

"Instead it appears you may be providing or selling ventilators to other countries as gifts or favors to serve your own political or personal interests without any meaningful strategic justification, thorough interagency process, or policy rationale for doing so," they said.

There was no immediate response from the White House or the U.S. State Department.

The U.S. gesture followed an earlier shipment of 45 ventilators, and other medical supplies, that Russia sent to the United States in April.

Both the Kremlin and State Department hailed the delivery as an example of collaboration despite the toxic state of relations between Washington and Moscow.

However, that shipment has been dogged by confusion over who paid for what, whether the Russian companies involved were subject to the U.S. sanctions, and whether the U.S. administration vetted the shipment ahead of time.

On May 13, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency said that the ventilators were never used by the New York region hospitals they were intended for and they were being returned to the agency "out of an abundance of caution."

The announcement came around the same time that Russian regulators ordered a suspension of use of the ventilator model in question, following two deadly fires at Russian hospitals. Short-circuiting ventilators were blamed for the blazes in St. Petersburg and the Moscow region.

Meanwhile, the Russian ventilators that were sent to the United States were not authorized by U.S. regulators, the Reuters news agency reported May 22. Nor did the ventilators even obtain special emergency authorization under a procedure put in place by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to cope with the coronavirus pandemic, Reuters said.

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    Mike Eckel

    Mike Eckel is a senior correspondent reporting on political and economic developments in Russia, Ukraine, and around the former Soviet Union, as well as news involving cybercrime and espionage. He's reported on the ground on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the wars in Chechnya and Georgia, and the 2004 Beslan hostage crisis, as well as the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

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