Russian vaccine diplomacy is dented in Slovakia as health regulator spots discrepancies.
Hungary continues its pivot towards Russia and China by planning to join the Moscow-backed Eurasian Development Bank.
US National Intelligence Council releases its Global Trends report.
Under pressure: US intelligence review prompts pre-emptive Kremlin comments.
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Russian vaccine diplomacy is dented in Slovakia as health regulator spots discrepancies
The developers of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine have accused Slovakia’s medicines control agency of disinformation and ‘sabotage’ after the latter noted irregularities in the batch of Russian vaccines delivered to the country a month ago. In February this year, Slovakia joined Hungary to become the second EU member state to purchase Sputnik V without authorization from the European Medicines Agency (EMA), causing a political scandal that forced the resignation of Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovic.
Last week, however, the State Institute for Drug Control (SUKL) disclosed to Slovak media that the delivered product did not match the one glowingly reviewed in the medical journal The Lancet, or the one currently under EMA review, after the regulator performed tests on the batch. Furthermore, about 80% of the relevant requested documentation had not been provided to SUKL by the vaccine’s manufacturer, according to the statement.
Rather than clear up the situation, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) backing Sputnik tweeted that SUKL had engaged in an act of “sabotage” and voided the vaccine sale contract because the tests were not performed in an Official Medicines Control Laboratory (OMCL). On April 6, the RDIF demanded that Slovakia return the 200,000 Sputnik V doses already delivered and paid for “so that they can be used in other countries”.
SUKL director Zuzana Baťová defended the quality of the tests performed, and stated that the regulator was never informed that testing the vaccine batch would breach the terms of the classified contract. On Friday Hungary’s Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó announced that, at the request of the Slovak government, the batch would be reassessed in an accredited Hungarian laboratory.
Although the reassessment results remain to be seen, further questions about Sputnik V reliability could prove disastrous to Hungary’s own attempts to lift restrictions amid a spike in deaths from COVID-19. Further discrepancies may also give pause to the German officials at both federal and state levels seeking to begin unilateral negotiations to purchase Sputnik V, as the Slovak case illustrates the risks of both unregulated medicines and of asking questions about Russian influence.
Hungary continues its pivot toward Russia and China
Speaking in Kazakhstan on April 6, Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Péter Szijjártó said that Hungary is planning to join the Moscow-backed Eurasian Development Bank (EDB). Szijjártó commented that the EDB would “open new financing sources for Hungarian firms to help them be even more successful in Eurasian markets.” If Hungary follows through, it will become the first EU member state to join the EDB, whose membership currently consists of six former Soviet republics. Hungary is already intimately involved with the Russia-led International Investment Bank (IIB), which the US Department of State referred to as a “tool of malign influence in Hungary and across the region” when the IIB’s headquarters relocated from Moscow to Budapest in 2019.
Last week’s announcement is part of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Eastern Opening policy, which aims to deepen relations with Russia and China in order to attract investment and facilitate access to foreign markets. Accordingly, Hungary has also taken steps to strengthen ties with China similar to its abovementioned engagements with Russia. In early 2021, Hungary confirmed that Shanghai-based Fudan University would open the only Chinese university campus in the EU in Budapest by 2024. As part of the Belt and Road Initiative, the China Development Bank will lend an estimated €1.3 billion for the project, which will be constructed using Chinese labour and materials.
US National Intelligence Council Releases Its Global Trends Report
The report, which is released every four years, offers an overview of potential global trends that are likely to shape US foreign policy over the next twenty years. The report describes Russia as “a rising and revisionist power”, and predicts the country is “likely to remain a disruptive power for much or all of the next two decades,” however argues that its global influence will decline due to President Putin’s eventual departure from power, decreasing energy dependence, among other factors. A full version of the report can be found here.
Kremlin’s Current Narrative
Under pressure: US intelligence review prompts pre-emptive Kremlin comments
Last week the US completed an intelligence review of alleged Russian interference, paving the way for the possibility of additional sanctions and the expulsion of Russian intelligence officers. As recently as last month the US imposed sanctions on Russian individuals and entities allegedly linked to the positioning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. The mounting pressure on Russia has caused the Kremlin to react pre-emptively.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov described the US sanction policy as a “dead-end.” He also questioned the pace as to which the US administration completed the report and asserted that Russia will retaliate if new US sanctions are applied. The promise of retaliatory measures was echoed by others in the Kremlin’s upper echelons too.
First Deputy Chairman of the Russian Federation Council’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, Vladimir Dzhabarov, suggested “tit-for-tat measures are highly likely,” before seconding Foreign Minister Lavrov’s statement by claiming that the Russian leadership would decide on retaliatory sanctions, should the US expel Russian diplomats or apply financial restrictions. Further criticism was leveled at the US by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Peskov attempted to undermine the US intelligence review by claiming that constant calls by the US to cease aggressive actions are devaluing Washington’s statements. Adding to his claims, he stated that Russia does not pose a threat to anybody or engage in aggressive actions. Meanwhile, Russian-backed media chose to focus attention on US activities.
TASS warned that the US may expel Russian diplomats and also highlighted US naval movements in the area of the Black Sea. Other media sources focused on US naval operations too, suggesting the US and its allies are attempting to exert psychological pressure on Russia. It increasingly seems, however, that any perceived pressure is a product of the course Russia has charted for itself.
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.