Q: What’s the difference between a coronavirus ventilator and an improvised incendiary device (IID)? A: The manufacturer.
And, when the manufacturer is Russia, the borderline between the two devices may be blurred. First, one ventilator made at the Urals Instrument Factory ignited in a Moscow hospital on 9 May.
One patient died, hundreds of others were forced to evacuate. Then yesterday another Aventa-M ventilator made at the same factory short-circuited and created a fire in St George’s Hospital, Petersburg, killing five.
“The ventilators were being pushed to their limits. Our preliminary information suggests there was an overload and the equipment caught fire,” explained a Russian source. Oh well, that’s all right then.
Those Russian medics made the fatal mistake of actually using those ventilators, rather than keeping them safely tucked away in a warehouse. That was a mistake the Americans learned from.
For in early April Russia kindly sent a consignment of the same model ventilators to the US, where a shortage was expected. The Russians extracted much publicity value out of that transaction, promoting it as a selfless gift of humanitarian aid.
They must have been congratulating themselves on making a big stride toward the lifting of US sanctions, for the factory in question belonged to one of the sanctioned companies.
Meanwhile the Americans objected that the transfer hardly qualified as a gift, seeing that they had to pay for it. Preoccupied with that technicality, they almost lost sight of the tragic truth that Russian gifts may keep on giving.
Almost, but not quite. Following the two conflagrations, New York, that received 30 Aventas, and New Jersey, grateful recipient of 15, have returned the machines to the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), saying they had no intention of using the de facto IIDs.
What FEMA is going to do with them now is anyone’s guess. Perhaps it may take only minor modifications to convert the ventilators into flamethrowers or, better still, Kalashnikovs. That’s one of the few Russian products that actually do what it says on the tin.
If Virgil were still around, he could give the Americans a good piece of advice: “Timeo Russi et dona ferentes.” But that Latin would be all Greek to FEMA.