For a long time, Europe‘s criticism was that there was too little information on effectiveness and safety, but after publication in The Lancet yesterday, Europe seems to be unable to ignore it: the Russian Sputnik vaccine works.
It would even have a 91.6 percent effectiveness. And it’s not the offer either. EU countries can, if it is up to the manufacturer, have 100 million doses of the vaccine already in the second quarter of this year. However, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has still not applied for approval.
And so the question arises what the EU is waiting for? In addition to medical, are there political considerations? And shouldn‘t we put it aside in times of a pandemic?
Putin’s prestige project
Bob Deen, Eastern Europe expert at Clingendael Institute, sees three important considerations. “First of all, we need to see if this vaccine serves the purpose, so: is it safe? In addition, the question is: can the Russians deliver? And then, of course, there comes the political consideration.”
For Putin, it is especially important to be able to put this vaccine as a victory, explains Deen. “They want to be able to measure with the world‘s top when it comes to developing these kinds of vaccines.”
“ For Russia, this is of course one big PR stunt,” says Pyotr Sauer. He is a journalist for The Moscow Times and received the first shot of the Sputnik V vaccine last week. “Putin has been ridiculed with the vaccine for a long time. There were stories that you would transform into a bear if you took it. You can imagine that Putin is now very happy with these results,” he says.
But what is also in Russian interest is to undermine European unity, says Dane. Hungary, which, under the leadership of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, has already approved Sputnik V and ordered two million doses. Spain also said that it was interested today and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel might also want to cooperate with Russia.
“ It can cause divisions, just like at the beginning of last year when Russia supplied medical devices to Italy to show that the EU was deficient,” Deen recalls. “We must be careful not to weaken our ability to put pressure on Russia on difficult issues as a Europe.”
For Putin everything is a political game, agrees journalist Sauer. “If he sells vaccines to Europe, he will also say that they should as little as possible criticism of other things, such as human rights,” he predicts. “That is why the question is: can Europe now separate science and politics?”
The Netherlands are currently working with the Russians on a number of difficult files. “Like Navalny but also MH17 for example,” says Deen. “The question is whether we will be able to work with the Russians without affecting those other files.”
According to Sauer, Merkel has shown that she can do it well. “She has strongly criticized Putin about the Navalny case, but also allowed the vaccine.”
Finally, if the EMA approves the vaccine, the question arises whether the 100 million promised vaccines are so realistic. “In St. Petersburg, for example, there are not enough vaccines,” says Sauer. “Argentina did not get the vaccines as quickly as promised.”
Dane also questions this. “Can production be scaled up at all? And then, of course, comes the question of strategic dependence.”
We are also still taking Russian gas and building the Nord Stream 2. According to Deen, this strategic dependence is much worse than with such a vaccine, “Because this is basically a temporary problem and we still need gas for now.”
Even the Russians themselves are far from all convinced, Sauer explains. “We haven’t been in a lockdown since the summer. Clubs, restaurants, museums are all open. In Europe, such a vaccine can bring life back to ‘normal’, but here it will not change anything.”
In addition, many Russians are skeptical and do not believe that their country has made such a good vaccine. “Putin himself has not yet taken the vaccine, and for many he is the most important person in the country.”