If 2020 was the year of the pandemic, in 2021 it is trying to be that of recovery thanks to the arrival of vaccines. The earthquake that caused the virus in all aspects (economic, social …) has risen old quarrels and rivalries. And it is that in addition to serving to immunize the population, the doses are also fulfilling the function of serving as global influence thermometer.
Given the shortage of injections, the different powers are using vaccines as a strategic instrument in what is known as vaccine diplomacy. And in this role he is playing an important role Russia and its attempts to position itself in the European market.
The Russian Sputnik V vaccine is already present in Hungary. (Photo by ZOLTAN BALOGH / MTI / AFP via Getty Images)
Unlike the United States or the United Kingdom, countries where vaccination progresses rapidly, the European Union is being weighed down due to the scarce availability of injections while the pharmaceutical companies have not fulfilled the signed delivery promises.
So far there are four approved vaccines: Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Janssen, but there is a lot of discontent in the member countries about the distribution and some of them have already started to look outside. And it is This is where Russia comes in.
Hungary was the first country to procure vaccines regardless of the bloc by buying doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, and Austria has threatened to do something similar. if you do not receive more doses of which correspond proportionally.
This situation it is being exploited by Russia. So far its compound is present in more than 50 countries. On the one hand, it has been received by its post-Soviet allies such as Belarus or Armenia, with the aim of strengthening its strategic influence in these countries. On the other, it has reached traditional allies such as Iran, Venezuela, Serbia or Syria. The presence of the Russian compound in these places is not surprising.
However, Russia is managing to extend its influence as well in traditionally western states such as the United Arab Emirates, Mexico or Hungary, and with the latter it enters fully in the European Union.
And that is the next great Russian goal. Its approval on the continent is already being debated and in mid-April the European Medicines Agency will make a decision. At the moment some steps are already being taken: Russia has already signed an agreement with Italy to produce 10 million doses of Sputnik V this year.
Vaccination in Europe is not going fast enough. (Photo by Joaquin Gomez Sastre / NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Experts say that there is a cold war on vaccines between the United States and Russia in which they try to discredit each other’s compounds, so it would be a very important boost for Russia to be able to carry his influence at the heart of the European Union.
Vaccination in Russia
A good proof of Russian intentions to gain influence with the vaccine are the vaccination data in the country. While the United States or the United Kingdom are limiting the export of vaccines as much as possible until their population is immunized, Russia is opting for the opposite strategy.
Despite having one of the most important vaccines, Russians they have barely vaccinated 5 million people, figures lower, for example, than those of Spain. Only 5 injections have been given for every 100 people. The rate is so low that it would take 2022 to immunize 70% of the population.
However, with Putin’s leadership guaranteed and with an opposition weakened by repression, Russia can afford extend its outer tentacles in search of influence without receiving too much internal response to the slow progress of immunization.
And the discontent among various European nations by the vaccination strategy perfectly serves the Russian interests of presenting the Sputnik V as the great savior of the continent, helping to improve an image badly damaged by cases such as the imprisonment of the opponent Navalny or the invasion of Crimea.
The vaccine can also help between Russia and Europe new commercial ties are opened and thus reduce somewhat the US influence, which was greatly diminished after Trump and which Biden is now trying to recover.
Vaccination in Russia is slow because the country is exporting numerous doses. (Photo by Mikhail Metzel TASS via Getty Images)
Of course, there is no doubt that an eventual Russian influence on the European continent can generate a destabilizing effect. In the end, the European Union is a community of 27 members, very different from each other, who have their philias and phobias.
And the fact that Russia is able to influence some countries can provoke tensions and conflicting views within the EU. A small example is currently being seen with the debate on the approval of Sputnik V, but could easily reach other fields.
So Russia has a good chance faced with the urgent need for vaccines of the European Union and the EU needs to have more doses to advance in immunization and justify itself in the face of societies that are not happy with the way the process is developing. They seem condemned to be understood in a movement that perhaps somehow changes the geopolitical balances of the region.
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