TOPICS OF THIS WEEK
Lies and shenanigans surrounding the Russian vaccine Sputnik V: EMA still waiting for Russia to submit the vaccine for approval, while Ukraine has banned it as a “hybrid weapon.”
The UK Parliament calls for restrictions on Russian foreign investment in the defence supply chain amid fears of asymmetric vulnerabilities.
Kremlin doubles down on doublespeak: Threats of severing ties with the EU retracted, in part.
Good Old Soviet Joke
Large poster in Warsaw: “Month of Polish-Soviet Friendship”.
A handwritten note on the poster: “I agree, but not a single day more!”
Policy & Research News
The EMA is still waiting for Russia to submit vaccine for approval, while Ukraine has banned it as a ‘hybrid weapon’
The European Medicines Agency (EMA), the regulatory body responsible for approving medical products for sale in the EU, has stated that it has still yet to receive any application for marketing authorisation of Russia’s ‘Sputnik V’ vaccination for COVID-19. The vaccine’s developer, the Gamaleya National Centre of Epidemiology and Microbiology, have reportedly received scientific advice in relation to the vaccine. This is a preliminary step and does not constitute a formal application for marketing authorisation. Russian media earlier reported that the vaccine’s sponsors, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), had applied for approval of the vaccine and that their application “has been accepted”. A statement published by the EMA on Wednesday last week confirmed that no such application has been submitted, although the regulator and the vaccine’s developer have discussed next steps in the process towards organising a rolling review (an accelerated appraisal procedure for emergency authorisation).
Widespread production and distribution of Sputnik V originally took place before trials had finished, leading many to question its safety and efficacy. At the beginning of this month the results of phase-3 trials (i.e., involving a large and representative sample group) were published in the medical journal Lancet accompanied by much fanfare in world media proclaiming Sputnik V as over 90% effective. Since then, however, the transparency of the latest results has been called into question, with a commentary from the Russian Society for Evidence Based Medicine noting that access to the raw data from the trial is conditional on the approval of an unnamed “security department”.
Meanwhile Ukraine has formally banned the import of Sputnik V on national security grounds, calling it “a hybrid weapon of Russia against Ukraine”. In a recent interview, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Olga Stefanishyna warned that Sputnik V is “20% medical treatment and 80% hybrid threat and propaganda”. Ukrainian NGOs have pointed to the vaccine’s use as a propaganda weapon against Kyiv, being frequently used to push the narrative that the West is indifferent to Ukraine and that only Russia can save Ukraine from the pandemic.
Ukraine joins a handful of countries around the world who have decided to limit the vaccines they import on geopolitical grounds. Taiwan has banned the import of Chinese-made vaccines citing efficacy and safety concerns and the long-standing policy of forbidding import of certain biomedical products, including vaccines, from mainland China. While Taiwan has ample supplies of non-Chinese COVID-19 vaccines and a relatively well-contained outbreak of the virus, Ukraine has had difficulty in securing adequate vaccine supplies through the COVAX international distribution initiative and has been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic.
The UK Parliament calls for restrictions on Russian foreign investment in the defense supply chain amid fears of asymmetric vulnerabilities.
A report published by the UK Parliament’s House of Commons Defence Committee on February 14 asserts that global defence supply chains represent a vulnerability. The report recommends that the government uses NATO, Five Eyes, and other foreign alliances to compile a list of friendly states, from which investment may continue. The Defence Committee chair, MP Richard Drax, commented that investment “from all countries that fall outside of an approved list, including Russia and China, must be barred.”
In the past decade, UK companies that produce sensitive technology have been acquired by investors from countries whose interests do not align with the UK. For example, China-based Shaanxi Mineral Resources acquired the UK manufacturer Gardner Aerospace, which produces parts for the Airbus A400M, in 2017. The Covid-19 pandemic has accentuated the threat as companies struggling financially become susceptible to foreign bids. Foreign firms currently account for 20 % of UK defence contracts and the recent inquiry now concludes that this overseas investment could facilitate hostile involvement and specifically cautions against actors like Russia, with a history of espionage against the UK.
In response, the UK Ministry of Defence stressed that it “provides support to the UK defence industry, including … targeted financial relief measures undertaken during Covid-19.” In addition, the National Security and Investment Bill, which was introduced in November 2020 and could become law in 2021, strengthens the government’s powers to oversee foreign investment in the UK defence sector. Still, the report may raise expectations on the UK to clarify its position on Russia in the delayed Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy later this spring.
The White House names leader of government response to the SolarWinds Hack
The White House announced that it has put a senior national security official in charge of the government response to the Solar Winds hack. The Biden Administration tapped Anne Neuberger, who holds the newly created position of deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology. This announcement comes on as Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) and Vice-Chairman Marco Rubio (R-FL) released a statement critical of the Biden Administration’s response to the hacking efforts, indicating that the Senate committee was not made aware of Neuberger’s role. After the White House’s announcement, the two Senators released another statement, arguing that “the federal government’s response to date to the SolarWinds breach has lacked the leadership and coordination warranted by a significant cyber event.”
The US and its allies clash with Russia over the conflict in Ukraine
According to the Washington Post and the Associated Press, the six-year-old Minsk peace plan, the topic of the meeting, was attacked by Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, who stated that: “over those six years, we still haven’t gotten an answer to two very important questions: How exactly does Ukraine intend to peacefully resolve the conflict, and how does Kyiv envisage special status of Donbas within Ukraine?” Meanwhile, Rodney Hunter, on behalf of the Biden administration, stated that Russia instigated the conflict in the Donbas and “has blocked meaningful progress in diplomatic negotiations while arming, training, funding, and leading is proxy forces and supporting the self-proclaimed ‘authorities’ on the ground.” This clash comes as legislation was introduced in the US House of Representatives by Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA-11), “to prohibit the United States Government recognition of the Russian Federation’s claim of sovereignty over Crimea, and for other purposes.” The bill, which was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, will have to be subject to mark up and debate before it can move on to the Senate.
Kremlin’s Current Narrative
Kremlin doubles down on doublespeak – threats of severing ties with the EU retracted, in part
As Russia prepares for the 2021 State Duma elections later on this year, the Kremlin has started to reinforce foreign policy positions. The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, admitted, “my visit to Moscow highlighted that Russia does not want to seize the opportunity to have a more constructive dialogue with the EU.” Meanwhile, Russian state-run media called the visit “disastrous” and stated that Russia “no longer cares what the EU thinks.” This narrative has been consistent, with many of the Russian political elite, including Putin, echoing anti-Western sentiments.
In an interview conducted last week but broadcast on Sunday, Putin said that Russia’s successes were starting to irritate opponents and that the stronger Russia becomes, the stronger the containment policy would be implemented by the West. He was joined by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who was more specific when outlining the Russian position on the EU.
Earlier this month Lavrov described the EU as an “unreliable partner,” but his more recent statements regarding the EU-Russia relationship came during an interview, in which he said Moscow was ready to cut ties should sanctions be introduced. He added, “we do not want to isolate ourselves from the world, but we have to be prepared for this.” However, the threats were soon rescinded by the Kremlin.
It was Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov who was tasked with softening Lavrov’s remarks. Speaking in front of reporters on Friday, Peskov insisted that Russia does not seek to sever ties with the EU, but did explain that if the EU decided to implement sanctions then Russia will be ready. Peskov went on to blame the media for leading with sensationalist headlines, claiming they distorted Lavrov’s comments. Yet it appears that no such distortion had infringed upon the messaging of Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry.
State-run news agency TASS quoted Zakharova as saying that a “large-scale anti-Russian provocation is underway,” with its objective being to destabilize the internal political situation in Russia. While RT led with the headline, “if you want peace, prepare for war,” referring to Lavrov’s comments. In response to the possibility of sanctions being applied by the EU, it seems the Kremlin is treading the thinnest of lines; one which even the most senior of officials are having trouble walking.
Kremlin Watch is a strategic program of the European Values Center for Security Policy, which aims to expose and confront instruments of Russian influence and disinformation operations focused against the liberal-democratic system.