Vaccine diplomacy and its effects

22/03/21

An aphorism generally attributed to Winston Churchill reads "Never let a good crisis go to waste", that is "never let a good crisis go to waste", because crises do bring problems, but they can become opportunities, openings for the modification of the status quo. It is a concept that seems to be well introjected and put into practice by the Russian apparatuses, which present themselves to the world still in full pandemic from Covid 19 with a lever of soft power with a sure tactical impact, and undoubtedly a strategic potential: the vaccine.

In fact, in recent months there has been an acceleration in exports of the Russian vaccine to the benefit not only of the partners historical, such as Belarus (in reality not even favored quantitatively), or areas where it is necessary to support a positive image, but also and above all towards countries geopolitically gravitating in other spheres of influence, particularly that of the United States, or directly towards Western countries.

Russia is certainly not the only power to adopt this type of approach: China, in turn, is carrying out an operation in many respects similar, as are India, and also Israel, thanks to a vaccination campaign conducted with highly efficient, he begins to look to the states with which he would like to improve or strengthen relations.

In what is now called "vaccine diplomacy"There are many players on the pitch, each with their own goals and motivations; in this context, Russia takes on particular relevance for Europeans, as it is a geographically close power, which has always perceived itself as European and has always seen in this continent is the natural outlet for a large part of its geopolitical strategy and propensity.

But it is not only the European framework that interests the Russians: Sputnik V has been given in millions of doses to countries of the Near East, such as Iran and Egypt, and also to Latin American states, such as Argentina, Venezuela, Brazil and Mexico. .

The objectives are manifold. First of all, there is an important operation of renewal of the public image in order to make it more positive: Russia offers itself as a benefactor in an objectively very difficult and complex situation, and every news agency headline that talks about donations of Sputnik doses V is one less title about hacker attacks, Navalny or the Ukrainian conflict. For a regional power, but still virtually capable of reasoning as a global power, the narrative and self-perception it is capable of transmitting is also important, and the Russians are fully aware of this. Secondly, there is support for nations opposed to the US hegemonic power, such as Iran or Venezuela which, in reaction to the political isolation suffered by Russia, become natural interlocutors and allies. Third, the vaccine has been offered to nations geographically very close to the United States, in a long-term perspective: Russia (but also China) is unlikely to ask for immediate compensation for its ostentatious generosity, but it is in any case, to win the sympathy of States which will then be unlikely to say no if a small favor is requested in the future.

This policy therefore appears as an attempt to strengthen its position globally, snatching microspheres of influence from what is the hegemonic power in the area. Finally, without prejudice to all the aforementioned reasons, with the usual clarity that has characterized Russian decision-makers for several years, Sputnik V is becoming a tool with which to try to circumvent the isolation imposed on Moscow by the United States and Western countries after the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and, if possible, foster divisions in the European bloc and the Atlantic Alliance.

It is worth underlining how this "vaccine diplomacy" is considered so important by the Russian apparatuses that they are willing to sacrifice part of the internal vaccination campaign, which only covers about 5% of the population, in order to guarantee the tens of millions of promised doses. , or distributed, to various countries around the world. In the European context we already find a very concrete example of this form of flu at work, with the administration of the vaccine to the inhabitants of the disputed Donbass region, where the self-proclaimed independent republics of Donetsk and Lugansk have received broad support from Russia, which sent both doses of the vaccine and medical personnel. This action was then accompanied by a double media offensive in an anti-Ukraine key: on the one hand, in fact, great resonance was given to the disparity between Ukraine itself, still very backward in the implementation of its vaccination campaign, and the Donbass republics, where vaccinations proceed very quickly; on the other, the media, especially i social pro-Russian media have continued to discredit vaccines from other countries; and not without results: 60% of Ukrainians do not want to get vaccinated, due to lack of confidence in the quality of the vaccine (AstraZeneca produced under license in India), or for fear of side effects.

Within the European Union, Russia began by proposing Sputnik V to countries of the former Soviet sphere of influence already considered Eurosceptic, i.e. the Visegrad group, with Hungary being the first to accept the offer (not surprisingly of the four the country most ostracized by partners Europeans), and adopt the Russian product in their vaccination campaign.

Slovakia has accepted two million doses, but the internal controversy over the use of Sputnik V and the consequent government crisis have, for the moment, blocked its use.

Poland, on the other hand, of the group historically most adverse to Russia, has chosen to use only vaccines negotiated by the European Union, and therefore of Western origin.

In the Czech Republic, the two political spheres of influence, the pro-Russian one (including the President of the republic himself) and the more Eurocentric one, have struggled to reach an agreement, but finally the Russian vaccine will enter the country by the end of March. It should be remembered that the EMA, the European Medicines Agency, has not yet approved the use of Sputnik V, so the individual states belonging to the EU that have decided to use it have in fact bypassed the European body, in gender by using national complementary agencies.

In Europe, France would seem to be about to conclude an agreement, similar to the Italian one, for the production of Sputnik V on its own soil, in contrast to what was indicated by Charles Michel - president of the European Council - who warned about the Russian generosity as a harbinger of future concessions regarding Russian sanctions and activism in the Mediterranean and Black Sea.

These days the Russian vaccine has also arrived in Italy, not (yet) as a dose to be inoculated, but in the form of an agreement signed under the aegis of the Italian-Russian Chamber of Commerce between the Italian-Swiss pharmaceutical company ADIENNE Pharma & Biotech and the Russian state subsidiary RDIF, for the production of Sputnik V on Italian territory, causing a certain alarm at European level, so much so that the president of the EMA has invited all the countries of the Union not to use or produce unapproved medicines, comparing these activities to "playing Russian roulette".

However, it seems very likely that, despite the poor adherence to pharmaceutical orthodoxy under development - especially in terms of tests - Sputnik V is a valid product, and the first claims appeared in Western specialized magazines already in February.. It should not be surprising, therefore, a particular case that occurred on the European continent, namely that of Serbia: a very pragmatic attitude prevailed here, the authorities considered it appropriate to obtain vaccines from any bidder, regardless of origin, but only evaluating their effectiveness. This allowed Serbia to be second only to the United Kingdom, in Europe, in terms of vaccinated in proportion to the population, and thus to start a sort of "shore vaccine diplomacy", by donating doses of Sputnik V to Montenegro. and North Macedonia, refusing them instead to Bosnia and Kosovo.

It should never be forgotten that an effective vaccination campaign has a strategic value as a prerequisite for economic recovery: all nations, in fact, have been affected in their production systems and, who is the first to be able to limit the damage and return to living conditions normal, it will be the first to reopen its markets, thus gaining a strategic advantage over all those still grappling with crisis management.

The offer of their vaccine by the Russians corresponds on the other side to a closure of China and the US itself, perhaps intent on gaining an advantage. If this were true, the sacrifice brought about by the loss of spheres of influence by the US (especially in Europe) might not be offset by the advantages on the domestic front. However, it remains clear that the European weakness and dependence on the research front and in the production of drugs and vaccines creates great difficulties of internal consensus, caused above all by the clear priority with which the USA and the UK have privileged their interests.

All this reverberates also in the international activities carried out by the Armed Forces which traditionally see the Americans and Europeans side by side. These operations have suffered a significant slowdown and greater management complexity, thus facilitating the local superiority of the opposition forces. In this context, disinformation and publicity campaigns overlap cyber-warfare towards European countries in order to create discontent with leadership policies.

These negative aspects are flanked by the positive experience linked to a new role entrusted to the military who, from the operational arm, in the event of an emergency, have assumed unprecedented organizational and logistical responsibilities, reviewing the relationship of competences between protection and civil defense.

It therefore remains evident that the apparent Russian generosity, and the consensus that derives from it, is opposed by US national protectionism with effects that cannot be foreseen since the consequences of a loss of US influence are not known. All this is further aggravated by the danger represented by the spectrum of mutations in the virus which, in the absence of an effective and timely global vaccination campaign, risks aggravating the health situation in Africa, Latin America and Asia, thus making all efforts to date useless. carried out.

We do not understand the delay accumulated in expanding the worldwide production of Covid vaccines, which could have been avoided by converting existing supply chains, creating others, offering partnership international and royalties on patents advantageous compared to competitors.

In fact, not only the protection of the health and safety of the communities is at stake, but also the international role and the economic advantage resulting from the resolution of the problem.

History teaches us that it could take many years before returning to a prospect of stable prosperity and not all nations enjoy the political, organizational, industrial, economic, social, cultural conditions indispensable for recovery, as well as the necessary resources.

Italy, unfortunately, appears disadvantaged compared to its Western partners, dangerously exposed to being confined to a subordinate role, with obvious consequences for our social expectations.

An aggravation of the current crisis could influence voters and the government by redesigning the geo-political and geo-economic choices of our country. In a context of possible degradation, it would be desirable to maintain a more stable and incisive collaboration in the European and Atlantic context.

In concluding this examination, we wish to underline how the situation is fluid and the needs to be met, even and only in producing a vaccine offered by another state, presuppose a careful analysis of advantages and vulnerabilities.

Russia has shown itself willing to fill a void that Europe and the US have left free due to their unpreparedness (Europe) and opportunism (USA).

National strategic independence has proved to be at risk and this must make us reflect on future choices.

Among the good news is that of a general in an apical role in the management of the emergency, in line with the competitive duties of the Defense that concern both the safety of the community and the response to crises.

Cesare Fanton, Bruno Santorio (Center for Geopolitics and Maritime Strategy Studies - CeSMar)

Photo: mos.ru / Mehr News Agency / argentina.gob.ar / Ministry of Defense