EU warming to Sputnik vaccine in propaganda coup for Vladimir Putin

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Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter ..
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter ..

Russia won't vaccinate the whole European Union, but the bloc will become a major manufacturing hub for Sputnik jabs.

Repeated and large vaccine supply shortfalls to the EU have led to warming attitudes towards Sputnik, in a propaganda coup for Vladimir Putin.

On Tuesday night, France and Germany held talks with Mr Putin after Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, suspended use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab for the under-60s over new blood clot fears.

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, and Mrs Merkel held a video call with the Russian president to discuss "co-operation" over vaccines.

Russia is subject to EU sanctions for the illegal annexation of Crimea, and Russian officials are also subject to measures for the poisoning and jailing of Alexei Navalny. Some EU leaders are increasingly willing to set those political and human rights concerns aside as they bid to ramp up their sluggish vaccination rates.

Austria, which has been complaining about supposedly unfair vaccine allocation in the bloc, has begun talks over supplies, allowed under EU rules because Brussels is not negotiating for Sputnik.

Hungary and the Czech Republic broke away from the EU's joint procurement scheme to secure their own Sputnik jabs. On Tuesday, Slovakia's prime minister resigned over a secret deal he struck to get the Russian vaccine.

Which countries have the Sputnik V vaccine
Which countries have the Sputnik V vaccine

Envious eyes have been cast at non-EU member Serbia, second only to the UK in its vaccination rollout thanks in part to Sputnik. Brussels was embarrassed at reports of people from EU member Croatia nipping over the border to get jabs.

The European Commission, responsible for negotiating vaccine deals on behalf of the member states, insists the bloc does not need Sputnik to hit its target of vaccinating 70 per cent of the adult population by the end of the summer.

Brussels has already ordered hundreds of millions of vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, the single shot Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines, which it says will be enough for 450 million Europeans.

EU vaccine production will soon be at an all-time high but member states, bruised by the delays in millions of AstraZeneca vaccines, are careful not to rule out accepting any Sputnik jabs.

Germany has said it would be interested in the jab, provided it gets clearance from the European Medicines Agency (EMA). France is more publicly cautious but understood to be open to supplies on the same terms. Italy is in favour of getting the doses.

Vaccination rates in the UK and the EU
Vaccination rates in the UK and the EU

The EMA is running a rolling review on Sputnik, with a view to swifter market approval, but is yet to receive any request for regulatory authorisation at the European level.

Time is against Sputnik's chances of playing a major role in the vaccination of the EU. Russia also simply does not have the production capacity at home – it needs foreign factories to scale up to meet international demand.

Since December, the EU has made at least 165 million vaccines and exported 77 million to richer countries. Extra supplies were also made for developing countries. The EU is a vaccine manufacturing hub already, and leaders have vowed to make it the number one global jab producer by the summer.

A Bavarian plant could start making millions of doses in Sputnik from June if it gets EMA approval. A factory in Northern Italy is slated to begin making Sputnik in July. Other sites in France and Spain have been mentioned as other possible production centres in the future.

Mr Putin will be keenly aware of the geopolitical uses an effective coronavirus vaccine could bring. Co-operation with Europe could eventually bear fruit in the form of EU factories making Sputnik for export around the world, rather than Russian shots in European arms.