Russia sends medical aid to Serbia to fight coronavirus

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia will send 11 military planes carrying medical equipment to Serbia to help it fight the coronavirus outbreak, the defence ministry in Moscow said on Friday.

The announcement came a day after the Kremlin said Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic had appealed to President Vladimir Putin for humanitarian aid for his country, which has documented 1,476 cases of the virus and 39 deaths.

Russia and Serbia have strong political, military and economic ties. Moscow backs Belgrade in refusing to recognise the independence of Kosovo, a former Serbian province.

The defence ministry said the planes were carrying military physicians and protective gear.

Russia has also sent several planes with medical supplies to Italy, which has recorded close to 14,000 coronavirus deaths - a gesture some European Union and NATO officials portrayed as a political move aimed at expanding Moscow's influence in Europe.

Russia also sent ventilators and protective gear to the United States this week in a shipment the Kremlin initially described as aid.

The Russian Foreign Ministry later said Moscow had paid half the cost, while a Trump administration official said the United States had paid it all.

The U.S. shipment drew anger from domestic critics of the Kremlin who pointed out that Russia was itself experiencing severe shortages of medical supplies in some regions.

Russia has recorded 4,149 coronavirus cases and 34 deaths.

(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber in Moscow; additional reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade; editing by John Stonestreet)