Sputnik V and Russian ‘Vaccine Diplomacy‘

Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and topics associated with it (e.g., vaccination) go beyond the limits of medical dimension. Coronavirus has become both economic and political factor. It is not hard to notice that. Therefore ne…

Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and topics associated with it (e.g., vaccination) go beyond the limits of medical dimension. Coronavirus has become both economic and political factor. It is not hard to notice that. Therefore new terms and definitions have been introduced into a public discourse. Vaccine diplomacy is one of them.
It is too banal to write that COVID-19 has changed the whole world. We can often hear contemplations that ‘after the Coronavirus pandemic life will not be the same’. People now have an apparent desire – they wish such a situation to end, bars and restaurants and all other offices that have been closed because of the quarantine to be open again. To say it simple, people are dreaming of going back to the world without any restrictions.
The way to the ‘normal’ world also exists. Actually, the only reliable solution is vaccination. Again, vaccines against COVID-19 Coronavirus already exist. Of course, we have doubts and various fears about their reliability or probable side effects. We can understand that, too, because there was a rush to develop suitable vaccines. On the other hand, it seems that at least majority of vaccines approved in the global market are both reliable and quite safe.  
To tell the truth, the already mentioned ‘vaccine diplomacy’ or even ‘vaccine wars’ can be called ‘side’ political effect in this story. Here, again, the role of Russia is obvious. The Kremlin actually likes conflicts in non-traditional forms and tries to use all possibilities in order to consolidate its hold on the global world.  
Russia is fond of emphasizing that it was the first to develop the vaccine against Coronavirus. We are talking about Sputnik V. To tell the truth, the ‘way of the vaccine to the consumer’ was quite hard. We can mention here doubts about efficacy and reliability of the vaccine. There was a fierce discussion about it on pages of the prestigious medical magazine . The Kremlin was blaming the Western world that was fighting against the ‘Russian vaccine’, politicising in matters related to Coronavirus COVID-19. Finally, Russia managed to contradict doubts about Sputnik V vaccine, although the European Medicines Agency has not approved this product so far.    
The story with Sputnik V allows us to make a more detailed analysis of the elements of the Kremlin ‘vaccine diplomacy’. Firstly, the name of the vaccine is very characteristic. The Russian word ‘sputnik’ (i.e., satellite) is well known in English-speaking world, too. It is one word that is being in the West without any translation in a certain context (other similar words would be Glastnost, Perestroika, i.e., publicity policy (of Gorbachev), ‘Reorganization’). The Russian propaganda media network established in 2014 was called not accidentally. Thus, the name of the vaccine is politically engaged, but here, after all, it the least problem.   
The Russian government tried to push Sputnik V in a political way. It tried to push this product particularly to Europe, to the European Union, to be exact. By the way, these attempts were not vain. A traditional rebellion of the EU – Hungary made a decision to use Sputnik V at the national level. Check Republic followed its example. Slovak Republic also tried to do this. To tell the truth, propagation and purchase of Russian product in Slovak Republic cost the position to the Prime Minister Igor Matovic and the Medicines Agency of this country announced that it has not received information from manufacturers of Sputnik V, thus it cannot recommend this vaccine for use so far.      
We should mention that a mini country of San Marino also chose Sputnik V for vaccination. Besides, Russian product is attractive to counties that have not managed to agree for the purchase of pricier Western vaccines for various reasons. 
Of course, immaterialised expectations of residents of the EU were beneficial to the attempts of the Kremlin. We are talking about a centralized vaccination plan that is being implemented not so successfully as planned. We can remind that the European Union adopted a decision to purchase the vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency in a centralized way. This decision has been well thought and has a goal that not a single state of the EU is left behind the border. However, the plan in reality turned to be not so efficient, besides manufacturers of vaccines failed to handle enormous number of orders, which have been made not by the EU only. More successful examples of other states – Israel and the United Kingdom that just recently left the EU just contributed to setting up the additional fire.  
The Kremlin propaganda was not waiting, either, trying to make use of these sensitive topics. Narratives generated by it started appearing on the global public sphere. Some of them advertised Sputnik V as a cheaper version and ‘100 percent efficient’ product in all ways possible. The Russian vaccine was introduced almost as the only hope for the world. Meanwhile, governments of the EU states were blamed – it was stated as if they were sacrificing lives of their people in the name of politics (as if they did not want to buy Sputnik V being politically motivated). Western vaccines were described as means to make profit by pharmaceutical companies. Of course, doubts have been also escalated about safety of so-called Oxford vaccine (AstraZeneca).   
The favourite topic of the Kremlin propaganda was a statement about ‘collapse of the vaccination process in Europe”. There used to be statements that the European states were refusing AstraZeneca vaccines for Sputnik V vaccine. All mentioned narratives have been taken from other Sputnik – monitoring of publications in January-March 2021 of the pseudo-media controlled by the Kremlin that had been done by the author of the article.
The mentioned statements are samples of lies and manipulations. AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been recently renamed and called Vaxzeria stays among the products approved by the EU. The European Medicines Agency admitted that in certain cases it may have a very serious side effect – thrombosis. Despite of this, the vaccine is considered quite safe and it has been admitted that it has more positive effects than potential harm.     
A statement that vaccination in Europe (having in mind, the European Union) collapsed is also taken from nowhere. To tell the truth, the rate of vaccination in the EU is not as fast as it was planned and anticipated. On the other hand, vaccination has not stopped. According to the available data, 16 percent of population of the EU have already got their first dose of vaccine and 6.6 percent of population has got both doses. According to the data of 2 April in Russia 11.6 million doses of vaccines have been used. It means that not more than 8 percent of population have been vaccinated in Russia so far, although actually this percentage is even lower, because the number of used doses is not equal to the number of vaccinated people. People have to be vaccinated with two doses of Sputnik V vaccine. In other words, the EU is not the leader in the progress of vaccination; however in Russia the results are even worse. 
Another interesting aspect is that Russian propaganda actively promotes Sputnik V, although in Russia there are more officially approved vaccines against Coronavirus COVID19. For instance, among vaccines submitted to the market, another Russian product EpiVakKorona has been mentioned. Actually, scientific data about this vaccine have been published in the local Russian scientific magazine only, which is under control of developers of this vaccine in particular, which is another interesting fact. Details published in the publication, raised doubts even to local specialists.  
In this case we just have to summarize what we can see in the story of Russian ‘vaccination diplomacy’. Of course, in the situation when Moscow found itself in the international isolation after aggression against Ukraine in 2014, the Kremlin tries to find ways how to come back on the international stage. A success in development, manufacturing and export of the vaccine against Coronavirus COVID-19 is one of such ways and means. We have to admit that probably Russia actually succeeded to develop at least one efficient vaccine against Coronavirus that is spreading globally. I am talking about Sputnik V (we have serious doubts about efficacy of other Russian vaccines so far). 
Russia is skilfully and efficiently making use of the tension arising in the world. Sputnik V is a leverage to split Europe if in this case we consider it as a geopolitical measure. Not accidentally some states of the EU adopted a decision to purchase this vaccine at the national level without waiting for the decision of the EMA. On the other hand, it is also associated with not totally efficient policy of the EU in this area.
The World Health Organization has emphasized several times that vaccines and vaccination should not become a political issue. However, it is hard to tell whether this issue can be separated from politics. Even if we acknowledge efficacy of Sputnik V, we should mention a fact that Russia can use funds received from this vaccine for the same war against Ukraine. Thus, the question of purchasing the Russian vaccine has also a moral aspect, too (we can apply the same aspect talking about vaccines developed by China). For all these reasons unfortunately, the issue of vaccines and vaccination cannot be left just in the field of health care only.   
Viktor Denisenko

Voras Online
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Autorius: Voras Online