Covid-19 vaccine: Ukraine’s dilemma


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Sf many countries are slipping in their vaccination strategy, Ukraine is experiencing another form of nightmare. First, vaccine smuggling is already rampant in the country. President Volodymyr Zelensky was very angry when he discovered that several deputies had received two doses of Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine in the absence of any official supply. At the end of December, a plane from Israel would have brought the precious vials and their beneficiaries would have paid $ 2,500 to undergo two injections in a private clinic. “If someone saw fit to smuggle vaccines, we will react as severely as possible,” Zelensky stormed.

That’s not all. The former Soviet republic, bogged down for six years in a war with its Russian neighbor to regain control of the eastern region of Donbass (13,000 dead), faces a dilemma: should we resort to the Sputnik V vaccine of “the enemy? Russian ”? Officially, the country is betting on the arrival in March of 8 million doses from Western companies thanks to the WHO Covax operation intended to help the most vulnerable populations. Except that the initiative suffers from the procrastination of the great powers occupied in responding to their own emergencies. Kiev also promises the delivery of two million doses ordered in September from the Chinese company Sinovac. But again, the products are slow to arrive. But time is running out. The country of 42 million inhabitants, subject to strict containment, records 20,000 deaths and its economy regularly threatened by a default continues to plunge.

Sputnik V: a political weapon

One option remains: the Russian vaccine. The Kremlin has no problem with this. On the contrary, he makes it his main political weapon. Since August, he has prided himself on having been the first to develop an anti-Covid vaccine. And claims to have an already long list of client countries. Examples? Argentina, Venezuela and more recently Bolivia. Cuba and Nicaragua even intend to produce it locally. Elsewhere, India and Serbia also plan to use it. Counting its own population, Russia claims to have already administered 1.5 million doses.

But Sputnik V has a strong supporter in Ukraine: Viktor Medvedtchouk, 66, an oligarch at the head of the pro-Russian opposition party For Life. The person concerned, it is true, has an excellent reason. It is a close friend of Vladimir Poutine who happens to be the godfather of his daughter. He also plays the intermediary in the conflict of Donbass.

An idea suggested by Poutine

Medvedtchouk thus proposes to produce the Russian vaccine on Ukrainian territory, more precisely in Kharkiv, in the east of the country, and to entrust its manufacture to one of the pharmaceutical leaders called Biolik. The idea was suggested to him by Putin himself, during a meeting. “It would be criminal to deprive ourselves of it, because we have the production capacity and the qualified personnel,” Medvedtchouk says. Biolik even applied for authorization from Kiev.

By offering his vaccine to the Ukrainian population, Putin would sign a great victory. It would be nice to show that only Russia takes care of its neighbor, when he and the West intend to draw closer.

“Hybrid war led by Russia”

A trap that the Ukrainian government wants to avoid. “We can see that this is part of the hybrid war led by Russia,” said Health Minister Maksym Stepanov. Certainly, but Kiev is also aware of the limits of its speech. “It is impossible to explain to Ukrainian society and to people who are dying that we do not take the Russian vaccine if the United States and Europe do not provide us with their vaccines,” admitted President Volodymyr Zelensky

However, for the time being, Sputnik V is banned from staying. Especially since it still raises doubts. “We do not know anything about the content of the research,” adds the Minister of Health, Maksym Stepanov. Doubts also about the production. It is enough to see the about-face operated in recent days by Hungary, yet delighted to exhibit in Brussels its Russian choice. After having received a modest batch of 6,000 doses of Sputnik V, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, at best with Putin, preferred to give it up for his mass vaccination. “It is still at the testing stage and has not been approved,” we recognize in Orban’s entourage.

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