The Russian government, which has boasted of its extraordinary success in the fight against the coronavirus epidemic, has sent nine huge cargo planes loaded with specialised military virus-busting technology to Italy.

The Ilyushin-76 planes, which carried over 100 virologists and doctors along with the sanitising equipment, were sent after President Putin spoke to Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Saturday.

Their equipment is emblazoned with the words "From Russia with Love".

Images from defence ministry TV channel Zvezda show the Russian military planes departing from Russia and arriving in Italy in an unprecedented act of support for a NATO country.

Italian premier Giuseppe Conte has gratefully accepted the unprecedented offer of Russian armed forces personnel, vehicles and equipment.

It came as the death toll in Italy rose to 5,475 with almost 60,000 people infected.

“The Russian Aerospace Force military transport aircraft will jet eight mobile teams of military virologists and doctors, vehicles for aerosol disinfection of transport and territories, as well as medical equipment to the republic," said a spokesman for defence minister Sergei Shoigu.

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Natalia Kriosheyeva, a senior military nurse, said: “This is not an act of bravery, it is our duty.

"We gave an oath to help people regardless of which country we're in.

“We should help people in any country.”

The team is equipped with the Orlan disinfectant system, designed to rapidly sanitise streets and buildings.

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Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said Russia's offer to help out NATO member Italy was “humanitarian”.

“Italy is facing a totally severe epidemiological situation,” said Dmitry Peskov.

“When taking a decision to help the Italian republic, Putin was primarily guided by humanitarian considerations.”

He said: “Nearly all nations are facing the serious threat of coronavirus.

“Efforts and capabilities should be joined to defeat it.

“Only together will nations be able to control the spread of this virus.”

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Italian defence minister Lorenzo Guerini “expressed gratitude” to the Russian armed forces, Moscow said.

Putin’s move appears to show a confidence that Russia is not facing an imminent mass spread of coronavirus – despite widespread claims the the Russian authorities were covering up the true impact of the pandemic within its borders.

Russia itself has reported 306 cases of the virus, most of them in Moscow, and one coronavirus-related death.

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