Since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, Moscow has had something of a public relations problem in Europe.
European sanctions against Russia followed and relations between Moscow and Brussels deteriorated as Vladimir Putin flexed his political muscles in Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans, reaching out to leaders such as Serbian Aleksander Vucic and Hungarian Victor Orban.
Given the bad blood, it’s no wonder the race to first find a COVID-19 vaccine and then distribute and administer it has contributed to the narrative. While the EU has struggled to make European-made vaccines available, Russia has already shipped its Sputnik V to Hungary and Slovakia and offered to supply 50 million more doses to Europe.
On March 9, he announced that Sputnik V will be produced in Italy from July at the factories of the Italian-Swiss pharmaceutical company Adienne in Lombardy.
Ten million doses will be produced between July 1 and January 1, 2022, the firm confirmed, in addition to millions that will be manufactured by firms in South Korea, Brazil and India.
Despite the progress, most European nations will not buy the vaccine from Russia as it has not been approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
Last week, the EMA announced that it would begin an ongoing review of Sputnik V but a few days later, its director, Christa Wirthumer-Hoche, told the Austrian media that using it was “comparable to Russian roulette.”.
The EMA has not responded to questions about Wirthumer-Hoche’s comments from Euronews.
Meanwhile, a report in The Lancet, a British medical journal, found a 91% efficacy rate against the virus, something that has been taken advantage of by the Russian media, who openly call Sputnik V the best COVID-19 vaccine in the world. . On the official Sputnik V Twitter account, Moscow demanded an apology for Wirthumer-Hoche’s comments.
“Sputnik V is approved by 46 countries. The EMA did not allow such statements about any other vaccine. Such comments are inappropriate and undermine the credibility of the EMA and its review process. Vaccines and EMA must go beyond politics, ”he said.
It is not the first time that Russia’s reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic has been criticized in Europe. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Russia was offering millions of doses worldwide while “not making enough progress in vaccinating its own people.”
In fact, while millions of doses of Sputnik V have been delivered to countries from Laos to Argentina to Serbia, and many millions more have been promised, use at home has been much quieter.
As of March 17, only 5.5 million people had received a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, representing 3.8% of the population. A recent opinion poll found that only 30% of Russians are willing to get vaccinated.
That’s only slightly better than France, which has vaccinated just over 7.5 million people out of a population of more than 60 million and has come under fire for its response to the crisis.
Kirill Dmitriev, director of Russia’s Direct Investment Fund, which markets the virus abroad, told Euronews that there were enough stores of the vaccine in Russia and that the quantities donated or sold abroad were manufactured outside the country.
But the AP reported that South Korean and Indian manufacturers, which produce 150 million and 100 million doses respectively of the vaccine, may not have started production in March 2021. In Brazil, production is still at the peak. pilot test phase and in Italy, has yet to start.
In Russia, just over two million doses were made in 2020, even as reports emerged of local producers having trouble purchasing equipment. Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said on February 20 that more than ten million doses of Sputnik V have been produced.
Critics also argue that while Moscow has promised much, much remains to be delivered or approved. India, Nepal and Brazil, which will receive 125 million, 10 million and 25 million doses respectively, have not yet approved the vaccine by regulators.
Argentina received 2.5 million doses on March 1, but expected five million to arrive in January and 14 million in February. Hungary expected to receive two million doses and has so far received 325,600, according to figures shared with Euronews by the Hungarian government. By contrast, Budapest has received 550,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine from China.
The Russian Fund for Direct Investment did not respond to questions about the deficit from Euronews.
Like China and Israel, Russia has been accused of basing its distribution agreements on diplomatic objectives and national self-interest, replacing EU member states within its orbit, such as Hungary, at a time when the EU’s own vaccine distribution measures are in place. hesitant.
But speaking to Euronews, Dmitriev said such political considerations were irrelevant.
“We believe that […] vaccines must be unrelated to politics, and if you look closely at who is making such comments, about some kind of Russian politics, these are people who deliberately dislike Russia and speak publicly about their dislike for Russia, ”he said.
“This dislike for Russia prevents them from seeing the objective picture, and the objective picture is that Russia, like other countries, has managed to create a very effective and high-quality vaccine and it certainly offers it to those who want it.”
But critics say that if Moscow had really wanted to help the global push toward vaccination, it might have supported the COVAX initiative rather than sending Sputnik V to individual states unilaterally.
It’s a failure, Michael Jennings, international development reader at SOAS University in London, told Euronews that the nations of the global north share.
“If countries are really committed to eliminating the policy, soon and on a large scale, they will start providing supplies through Covax, where allocation can be determined based on need, not donor self-interest,” he said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism