As the US was bracing for a major wave of seriously ill coronavirus patients in March, President Donald Trump asked President Vladimir Putin in a phone call for help. In response, Moscow sent 45 ventilators and other medical supplies in crates stamped “From Russia, With Love.”
They were part of a lopsided aid deal between the countries that would ultimately see Russia delivering a little more than $1 million worth of supplies to the US in April, followed by the US sending about $5.6 million to Russia over the following two months.
The Russian ventilators were received by Federal Emergency Management Agency officials in New York on April 1 and divided up between hospitals there and in New Jersey. But there were problems with the Aventa-M ventilators from the moment they landed and they were never used.
Now, according to FEMA, they have essentially been tossed in the trash.
“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 on Monday.
It is unclear when exactly the agency disposed of the ventilators. FEMA told BuzzFeed News in May that it had put the machines in storage facilities in New York and New Jersey after technical problems with them became known.
First, the Aventa-M ventilators required an electrical voltage not compatible in the US, meaning they could not be used without an adapter that hospitals did not have. Weeks later, several of the same models caught fire in Russian hospitals, causing the deaths of six people and prompting the government to halt their manufacture.
Moreover, they were made by a Russian company under US sanctions.
The ventilators also caused an uproar, particularly among congressional Democrats, who chided the White House for receiving ventilators from a sanctioned company as well as the apparent cost of them. (Russia first said it would charge the US $660,000 for the machines and other supplies — roughly half the cost of the shipment — but later a government official told BuzzFeed News that it had not billed Washington because the countries had agreed to swap medical aid). Democrats were also outraged over the difference in the cost and amount of medical aid provided by Russia to the US versus that delivered by the US to Russia.
The US sent $5.6 million in medical supplies to Russia to help it combat the coronavirus pandemic. A video posted to the Twitter account of the US Embassy in Moscow in June showed an American military cargo plane arriving with some of the aid, including 200 ventilators.
The Kremlin, the US State Department, and Trump himself hailed the delivery as a rare example of collaboration between the two adversarial nations to fight a common enemy.
Speaking alongside members of his coronavirus task force in the White House Rose Garden on March 30, Trump said, “Russia sent us a very, very large planeload of things, medical equipment, which was very nice.”
The US and Russia remain among the countries with the highest number of cases of COVID-19, and both are currently experiencing new waves of infections. Just this week, Russia set a new daily record with over 15,000 new cases, the Moscow Times reported.
And there are many similarities in how the two have managed the crisis. One difference, though, is how Trump, who contracted the virus last month and was hospitalized, and Putin have dealt with it personally. Unlike Trump, who continues to hold public rallies, Putin has ridden out the pandemic cloistered in his palatial residence.