Plenty has been said and written about the Russian "assistance" to Italy in the framework of anti-coronavirus efforts. But, in fact, more and more details are surfacing around this pseudo-humanitarian mission, which is clearly designed to serve long-term objectives.
The operation, led by Russia's armed forces in the heart of Europe had initially raised many questions. For example, why is it being carried out by the military who among other things are related to intelligence units? Why was it exactly with their arrival in Italy that Eurosceptics raised their voices so sharply, even calling for Italy to withdraw from the EU? Why is 80% of the cargo brought by Russian "rescuers" unsuitable for fighting COVID-19?
The answers boil down to one simple thing: Russia never aimed to save the Italians. Moscow's true goal was propaganda as part of one of their long-running campaigns covering a whole range of tasks. This is about promoting Russia's "greatness" and "mercifulness", cultivating the image of "saviors"; leveling own issues with COVID-19 through the prism of the Italian crisis; gathering intelligence and recruiting human assets; preparing an information basis for catalyzing public opinion on the issue of Italy's withdrawal from the EU, and other related info-ops.
And now we're observing one of such operations unfolding. It might be rather unexpected in terms of its context, although elaborate and disgustingly mean-spirited.
An appeal is being sent en masse across social networks and private emails in Italy, calling for citizens to fly Russian flags on their home windows and balconies on May 9 as an expression of gratitude to this country for its help amid the pandemic.
This propaganda move is precisely timed for May 9, and the Italians are called to post pics of those flags on Facebook and Twitter with hashtags "Thank you, Russia!" and "From Russia with Love!"
The effort is set to solve a number of tasks at once. Definitely, one is propaganda through a massive engagement on social networks in favor of Russia, done by naive Italians who are thus rendering a service to the Kremlin.
Besides, this online challenge, which the Italians see in the narrow context of anti-coronavirus efforts, will be presented to Russians as Italy's solidarity on the issue of WW2 victory on May 9 amid Russia's desperate attempts to claim main role of the Soviet army in the victory over Nazi Germany with complete disregard for all other participating countries.
So it's clear that besides working toward the already mentioned goals and objectives, Russia in Italy is also addressing other, situational, issues. And the fact that Russia deployed its team to "fight coronavirus" in Italy created a tremendous problem for the host country – even a threat.
Indeed, Russia will long be exploiting this association among ordinary Italians in order to implement its propaganda projects in this country and across the EU as well. Having opened their door to Russia, Italians may have contracted an infection even more threatening than COVID-19. Italy will soon completely get rid of the coronavirus, but, alas, it will take years to tackle consequences of Russian "aid".
So I'd like to rephrase the centuries-old wisdom, namely: "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes", better known to us as “Beware of Danaans (Greeks) bearing gifts". Now it's more like "Beware of Russians offering a helping hand."