Russia was the first to declare victory in the global race for the vaccine against the Covid 19 virus. However, as we estimated at this same place about a month ago, the one who is the first to declare victory will not necessarily be the winner in the final race. The real winner will be the one who convinces the world that his vaccine is effective, safe, and at the same time (financially) available to millions of people. The champion will be the one that people will trust, because the stake is the highest – the life of each of us. Will it really be Russia?
Unfortunately, the vaccine against Corona will be much more political than a medical product. Vladimir Putin’s spectacular announcement that the vaccine from the Gamaleya Institute received the approval of the health authorities of Russia, only confirms the high political nature of this virological endeavor. There are only words of praise and respect in the world about Russian researchers, and especially about the reputation of the Moscow epidemiological institute “Gamaleya”. The trouble is that their flawless image is far from enough to convince humanity that the vaccine they produced is flawless. Because the Russian vaccine will not be “sold” by Russian scientists, it will be “sold” by the Russian state, and its international image is not even close to the one that the Moscow Institute has.
Putin’s victory in the race for the vaccine was much needed. Just as China needed success in covid diplomacy in March, when it flooded Europe with medical aid, in an attempt to cover up the blame for spreading the infection around the world. However, delivering mostly unusable medical equipment and scrap goods. Russia’s international reputation is desperate and it desperately needs a “big leap” to return to the top of world politics, economy and influence. And that will be very difficult. It has been isolated for a long time, without influential partners in the world, the low price of oil is destroying its economy, it is excluded from the main global decision-making mechanisms (G-7 for example). With the recent constitutional referendum in which he won, practically, a lifelong presidential mandate, Putin is cementing his rule in the eyes of the world as autocratic and untouchable. The Russian leader longs for global success overnight, which will provide him with wide international respect. Hence, as the Washington Post notes, he gives the new vaccine the name “Sputnik 5”, as a clear allusion to the last and perhaps the only great victory of Russia and its national pride on a global level, back in 1957, when it first launched an artificial satellite.
The Russians, however, have no luck with such attempts to skip time. Just like in 1917, when they bypassed capitalism, they tried to jump from feudalism into the socialist bright future. The fact that the Russian state and Putin have declared victory in the race for the vaccine does not mean much to an army of experts around the world, who warn that they are still far from the goal, because they have just entered the third, final phase of testing, when the vaccine should show its true effects on thousands of tested volunteers. In that decisive phase, before the Russian one, there are already as many as eight laboratories around the world, which means that Putin declared victory, even though he is only in the ninth place in the race!
For now, few in the world are impressed with this, without a doubt, political proclamation, which is not surprising, because he has invested the reputation of his country and himself personally in the promotion of the vaccine, and that reputation is not enviable. It is in the red, so to speak. The UN’s forecasts for this year also speak about the health environment, which places Russia in the lower half of the world scale of life expectancy, 112th out of a total of 191 places, with life expectancy below the world average. According to Russian officials, about twenty countries have expressed interest in procuring a Russian vaccine. Latin America, the Middle East and Asia are interested in the vaccine. There is no doubt that all of them (provided that they have really expressed interest), including others, will first want to see for themselves the efficiency and safety of the Russian vaccine, before distributing it to their population. President Vučić’s words that Serbia will act in the same way, that it will seek the judgement of its medical experts, regardless of whose vaccine it is, are encouraging. Wanting to personally announce the good news and declare a (non-existent) victory, Putin made it clear that the Kremlin and all the arsenal of influence and pressure it has will stand behind the bottles of vaccine from the Gamaleya Institute. But that’s their business. Serbia has already announced that it has gained antibodies and immunity to this wave of political pressure, which is obviously imminent. Because President Vučić knows very well that this is not a simple game of political upheaval, and the stakes are high for any attempt at gambling. The biggest. Human lives, health and the future of the nation.