MOSCOW (Reuters) - Ventilators delivered by Russia to the United States for coronavirus patients were manufactured by a Russian company that is under U.S. sanctions, Russia’s RBC business daily reported on Friday.
A Russian military plane carrying the ventilators along with other medical supplies including personal protective equipment landed in New York on Wednesday after U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone.
Russian state television footage of the plane’s unloading showed boxes of “Aventa-M” ventilators, which are produced by the Ural Instrument Engineering Plant (UPZ) in the city of Chelyabinsk, 1,500 km (930 miles) east of Moscow, RBC reported.
UPZ is part of a holding company called Concern Radio-Electronic Technologies (KRET), which itself is a unit of Russian state conglomerate Rostec.
KRET has been under U.S. sanctions since July 2014, with U.S. firms and nationals barred from doing business with it.
The issue was further complicated by the question of whether it was the United States or Russia’s sovereign wealth fund RDIF, which was added to U.S. sectoral sanctions in 2015, that paid for the ventilators.
A senior administration official on Friday said sanctions did not apply to medical supplies.
“The United States is purchasing the supplies and equipment outright, as with deliveries from other countries. The Russian Direct Investment Fund is subject to certain debt and equity-related sectoral sanctions, which would not apply to transactions for the provision of medical equipment and supplies,” the official said.
The United States began imposing economic sanctions on Russia in 2014 to punish it for its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and its backing for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Additional rounds of sanctions have since been imposed on Moscow in response to its alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections and alleged involvement in the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal in Britain in 2018. Moscow denies both allegations.
On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department said Washington agreed to purchase the medical supplies but made no mention of any company or sanctions. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow said it had nothing to add beyond that statement.
The State Department on Friday did not have immediate comment on the sanctions question.
Trump on Thursday described the Russian shipment as containing “a lot of medical, high-quality stuff” which could save a lot of lives and said he’d “take it every day” if he had the opportunity.
But debate over who picked up the tab persisted.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow had paid half the cost with the other half picked up by Washington, though the Trump administration official later said the United States had picked up the whole tab.
On Friday a spokesperson from the RDIF said the fund stood by its earlier statement that it had paid for half of the bill. The comments got another pushback from Washington.
The Trump administration official insisted the United States paid the entire cost of the shipment and dismissed the Russian investment fund’s contention that the cost was split.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova expressed surprise and disappointment that anyone was questioning what Moscow has cast as a sincere goodwill gesture meant to help the United States at a time of crisis.
“Aren’t ventilators needed in the United States?,” she said, saying Russia could take them back if they were not wanted.
Rostec, the state conglomerate which ultimately owns the Russian ventilator plant, told Reuters that its units were producing ventilators for the domestic market as part of the Russian government’s measures to fight the virus.
The decision to ship its products internationally was the prerogative of the Russian president and government, it said.
Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Gleb Stolyarov, additional reporting by Dmitry Zhdannikov and Steve Holland and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington,; Editing by Andrew Osborn, Angus MacSwan and Cynthia Osterman