In March, medical supplies airlifted to Italy were emblazoned with the logo “From Russia with Love.” Even more surreal was Russia’s deployment of 122 experts in bacterial warfare, including medical teams, to Italy.

Scenes of the convoy of 22 military trucks, rolling across Italy like an occupying power, constituted a propaganda coup for Moscow, which used the images to hammer home the idea that NATO and the European Union have abandoned Italy in its hour of need. “Russian convoy traveled on NATO roads,” state-controlled Rossiya 1 TV channel crowed.

A video of an Italian man taking down an EU flag and replacing it with a Russian tricolor and a sign saying “Thank you Putin” has played frequently on Russian TV — no matter that Italian media later reported people had of received payments of €200 for filming messages of gratitude.