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Sputnik V has become Russia’s tool in vaccine diplomacy

While European countries are focused on domestic issues related to vaccine supply, Moscow is brushing up its international reputation by proudly distributing its medical research solution in the fight against COVID-19, namely the Sputnik V vaccine (named after the first satellites, launched by the Soviet Union) to less developed and poor countries, aiming to cover, among other things, a part of the European market. In Kremlin’s hands, the COVID-19 vaccine has become not only a drug saving millions of lives, but also a tool skillfully used in the battle for world leadership.

The Russian vaccine became widely known and gained a certain prestige after a positive publication in the British medical journal “The Lancet”, saying that the effectiveness of the vaccine against the SARS-CoV-2 virus is 91%. This message was picked up by the Russian media, which openly call Sputnik V the best vaccine against COVID-19 in the world.

Three EU countries – Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic – “accepted” the Russian vaccine without the approval of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) under the pretext that Europe is facing delays in vaccine supplies. Not everyone happily agreed with the decision to purchase Sputnik V: Hungary faced internal skepticism and criticism from the opposition and the European Union. EMA draws attention to the fact that Hungary’s actions as a member of the EU violate the European practice of vaccine registration. In this regard, the European Commission expressed its clear position: “The question arises whether a member state would want to administer to its citizens a vaccine that has not been reviewed by EMA.” At the same time, the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said that Russia offers millions of doses of vaccine around the world, while “not making enough progress in vaccinating its own population.”

A political scandal emerged in Slovakia over the purchase of Sputnik V. Two of the four parties in the Slovak government coalition opposed the use of the Russian vaccine without EMA approval. The Prime Minister of Slovakia Igor Matovich was put forward an ultimatum: either the continuation of coalition cooperation, or the resignation of the head of the Ministry of Health, who issued permission to use Sputnik V.

Such an active position of Slovak Minister of Health regarding the purchase of Russian vaccine is to be logically explained: in September, 2017, Marek Krajci was an observer to Russian regional elections. He claimed that no violations of electoral process had taken place during Russian regional elections and praised Russian electoral system. The statements of Slovak politician contradicted conclusions drawn by the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) completely. The international organization concluded that serious violations of the democratic process had taken place, which questioned the outcome of the elections. Russian media outlets informed that Krajci was allegedly invited by Russia’€™s State Duma. The politician claimed that he was delegated by the Council of Europe, however, it later turned out to be false. As a result, the “voyage” badly affected the image of Slovak politician, who later had to apologize for being absent during a parliament session.

Hence, Marek Krajci was listed among the “fake” observers by the European Platform for Democratic Elections (EPDE), and his profile is published on the web-site of the organization.

In 2018, Marek Krajci was an observer to Russian presidential election, again. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) registered numerous violations of democratic process. That elections were widely criticized, given the fact that there were hardly any competitors to V. Putin’s nomination as the next Russia’€™s president. The main competitor figure Alexei Navalny was forbidden from participation, and other candidates faced restrictions during the registration stage.

As EPDE mentions, the involvement of foreign observers, like Marek Krajci, assisted Russia in its strive to manipulate public opinion within the country and abroad – in order to avoid criticism, it needed favourable comments from foreign observers to demonstrate that the process complied with democratic standards.

It can be said for sure that the purchasing deal for 2 million doses of the vaccine has definitely provoked political crisis within Slovak Republic. Marek Krajci has already resigned, as Igor Matovich has done, however, in exchange for a staff reshuffling in coalition. The occasions can influence significantly the political climate in Slovakia.

Therefore, with the help of puppet politicians within the EU, Moscow destabilizes the unity of the Member States, involves lobbying mechanisms to discredit European entities; successfully regains its stances worldwide to demonstrate its “from Russia with love”, and convinces the world society of its better effectiveness in comparison with the EU, regarding the vaccine supply.

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