The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has reportedly thrown away the 45 ventilators delivered by Russia at the height of the coronavirus pandemic without ever using them.
The Aventa-M ventilators were sent to the United States after President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, discussed the shipment in a March 30 phone call.
FEMA told BuzzFeed News on October 18 that the ventilators have been scrapped, although it remains unclear when that happened.
“The donated ventilators in question were disposed of following strict hazardous waste disposal regulatory guidelines set by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),” a FEMA spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.
The ventilators, which arrived in crates marked "From Russia With Love," were part of a highly publicized exchange that would ultimately see Russia delivering a little more than $1 million worth of supplies to the United States in April, followed by American deliveries to Russia valued at $5.6 million over the following two months.
The ventilators arrived in New York City on April 1 and were rapidly distributed by FEMA locally and in New Jersey, without even receiving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s expedited Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) -- an emergency protocol to allow ventilators to be distributed without the agency’s routine -- and more time-consuming -- approval process.
A day after the shipment's arrival, Trump praised Putin and was asked about whether he feared it could be seen as a propaganda ploy.
"I'm not concerned about Russia and propaganda, not even a little bit," Trump told reporters at the White House on April 2. "There is a lot of medical, very high-quality stuff that I've accepted. It may save a lot of lives and I will take it every day."
Furthermore, Trump himself, the Kremlin, and the U.S. State Department hailed the delivery as a rare example of collaboration between the two adversarial nations to fight a common enemy.
However, the ventilators presented problems from the very beginning.
The ventilators required an electrical voltage not compatible in the United States and could not be used without an adapter that hospitals did not have.
Several ventilators of the same models caught fire in Russian hospitals in May, causing six deaths and prompting the government to halt their manufacture.
Furthermore, the Russian maker of the devices, Ural Instrument Engineering Plant (UPZ), was under U.S. sanctions at the time of the shipment. That caused an uproar among congressional Democrats, who blasted the White House for receiving ventilators from a sanctioned company.
Democrats were also incensed at the difference in the cost and amount of medical aid provided by Russia to the United States -- roughly $1 million -- versus that delivered by Washington to Moscow in June, estimated at $5.6 million, including 200 ventilators.
The United States and Russia are among the countries with the highest number of coronavirus cases.
According to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, the United States has recorded 8,214,754 infections and 220,133 deaths -- the highest number in the world -- while Russia has the fourth-highest infection rate, with 1,406,667 registered cases and 24,205 fatalities.
However, Russia has been suspected of underreporting both the number of infections and deaths.