MOSCOW - Russia on Thursday begins withdrawing military experts and medics sent to Italy during the height of the coronavirus pandemic as part of an aid effort that critics said carried political overtones.
"We will begin the pullout of radiation, chemical and biological protection units from Italy," Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said at a meeting of military leaders on Wednesday.
He said the military would host a ceremony to mark their return and asked for "proposals for the promotion of distinguished military personnel, doctors and all those who were involved in disinfection in cities and facilities in Italy."
Russia has sent military planes with specialists and equipment to countries including Italy, China and the United States, gestures that have prompted criticism from some Russians over using crucial resources for geopolitical aims.
Moscow said in March when the program began that the aid for Italy included protective equipment and about 100 virus specialists with experience dealing with Ebola and swine fever.
Yet Italian media reported that much of the equipment was not useful in the fight against the virus, sparking a diplomatic spat.
Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Italy in July last year and has often spoken of his long friendship with former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.