The first phase of this world-changing pandemic ended up with two clear winners: China, which got to whitewash its image via a world-extended humanitarian effort that proved fundamental for the promotion of the so-called Health Silk Road, and Turkey, which got to extend further its influence over the Balkans, the Muslim world and Central Asia.
US and Russia Get Involved
The United States tried to sabotage China’s unexpectedly quick recovery by sending tons of aid to the European Union – the two countries’ main battlefield – and by promoting a war of narratives. Russia, for its part, opted for an initial isolationist policy and started to reply to the help requests of its allies and strategic partners at a later stage, after having understood the danger of Turkey’s incursions into the Balkans and the post-Soviet space.
But concurrent with the evergreen law of historical recurrence, Russia is used to feeling the blow and drawing back at first only to later react with a game-changing total mobilization effort. That’s why, possibly, it has been the Kremlin that put an end to the vaccine race on August 11 by announcing the registration of the successfully-tested Sputnik V.
One Billion Doses
The announcement was made on August 11 by Russian President Vladimir Putin and received a mixed welcome. The West immediately started questioning the reliability and effectiveness of the Russian vaccine, which has been symbolically named Sputnik V after the Soviet space program, whereas the main leaders of the Global South made contact with the Kremlin to arrange the first pre-orders.
By the end of August the Russian government confirmed that it had received orders for about one billions doses of Sputnik V – all of them coming from the developing world, from Brazil and Mexico to India and Philippines. The European Union members and most Western-aligned countries are likely to put the political interest before their citizens’ well-being, and accordingly they are going to wait for an American-made, EU-made or Israeli-made vaccine, but in no way will doing so actually work against the Kremlin’s agenda.
Russia Doesn’t Need the West to be Onboard
Indeed, the Moscow-based Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology did not develop the Sputnik V hopefully to convince the West of Russia’s good intentions but to recover the ground lost during the first phase of the pandemic. It comes as no surprise that the first countries to be approached, and by which the Kremlin itself has been approached, belong to the post-Soviet space and, more broadly, to the Global South; these same countries will also have the privilege of receiving their orders in record time.
As of mid-September the list of Sputnik V-interested countries belonging to the former USSR is comprised of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Moldova and Belarus. Kazakhstan is set to receive an initial load of more than two million doses and also secured “a guaranteed amount of the Sputnik V vaccine after it passes all trials.” Uzbekistan green-lighted the extraordinary purchase of 35 million doses, and Moldova announced the coming import of unknown amounts of the vaccine.
Regaining a Grip on the Post-Soviet Space
In short, Sputnik V will be Russia’s keystone for keep controlling the post-Soviet space while increasing its influence and improving its image in the Global South, especially in Africa and Asia. Western pressure will follow but they won’t change the fact that the first people to be vaccinated all over the world are going to be treated with the Sputnik V medicine. National economies will be saved from the nightmare of new lockdowns and the research centers of dozens of countries, from Kazakhstan to Nigeria, are working on knowledge exchange programs with Russian scientists.
No further Western development will be able to change the effects of this groundbreaking diplomatic victory, only the potential discovery that the vaccine does not work properly or effectively.
The Belarus Dilemma
Of great importance is the case of the ever-rebellious Belarus, whose long-lasting President Aleksandr Lukashenko decided to put an end to its anti-Russian stand in the aftermath of the post-election disorders and is now trying to resume high-quality bilateral relations with Russia through a flirtatious diplomacy. After releasing the Wagner Group members detained in late July and accusing the West of being behind a color revolution attempt Lukashenko travelled to Sochi to meet Putin on September 14 and discuss Minsk’s future geopolitical alignment.
In Sochi, Lukashenko got a 1.5 billion dollar loan and the promise to receive the vaccine by mid-October, giving Belarus the privilege to be one of the first countries in the world to start a COVID-19 mass vaccination. These two events would have been impossible if the EU-sponsored regime change attempt had never taken place:
Lukashenko was actually very interested in changing the status quo and moving his country away from the Russian sphere of influence as shown by the historical purchase of American oil and by the Russophobic-dominated election campaign. The decision to try a Euromaidan 2.0 proved a severe mistake dictated by impatience, shortsightedness and scarce knowledge of the Belarusian panorama, which is pretty far from the Ukrainian situation.
Now, with the EU openly supporting a power transition led by the opposition – which has been granted asylum in Poland and Lithuania, and willing to implement a sanctions-regime against Lukashenko-loyal statesmen and business people – Russia has found in the Sputnik V the ultimate tool with which to re-exert full control over its wayward backyard.
Lukashenko’s perception of Russia is going to be shaped profoundly by the set of events which took place between August and September and whoever will follow him must take into account the fundamental role played by Putin in avoiding a Ukraine-style scenario, which seemed very likely in the first days of protests, and in helping the country face the COVID19-related crisis and economic turmoil despite the misunderstandings with the leadership.
The Western Balkans are another geopolitical theater for which the Sputnik V was made. Indeed, it’s here, in the former Yugoslavia that Turkey and the EU carried out a dual strategy based on the sending of aid, on Turkey’s part, and of money and loans, on the EU’s part. Complementarity was the key-word of the West’s strategy for the Balkans, a region from which Russia has been almost completely ousted over the years.
The Kremlin’s remaining satellites in the Western Balkans are Serbia, Bosnia’s Serbian Entity (Republika Srpska), and to a lesser extent Montenegro, where the Russo-Serbian axis is precluded from politics but keeps exerting a powerful cultural hegemony via the Orthodox Church. It is no surprise that Serbia and Bosnia were targeted by massive humanitarian campaigns by Turkey and the EU: the goal was to take advantage of the pandemic to lay the foundations for a new order in the after-crisis.
The Kremlin managed not to lose the battle for the Western Balkans due to the vital support provided by China, which sent tons of aid to the Balkans at Russia’s request as well as to Belarus, Moldova, Venezuela and other Russian-aligned countries. The outcome of the joint efforts was the securing of Serbia and the creation of a polarized situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The changes brought Bosnia more and more close to the EU and made Turkey and the Republika Srpska increasingly reliant on – and friendly with – the Moscow-Beijing-Belgrade trio.
After a months-long struggle, the battle for the Western Balkans seems close to an end: Republika Srpska announced the intention to order up to one million doses from Russia by the end of the year, and Serbia is likely to follow, as their leader Aleksandar Vucic recently pointed out.
Against the background of the Sputnik V revolution, Russia is recording another significant victory via the drug Avifavir. It is a COVID-19 treatment drug which is both cheap and reliable. The medication is manufactured by the Russian company ChemRar and, again, the first of its kind to be registered. The quality-price ratio of Avifavir is also convincing an increasing number of countries — including some in the EU — to order millions of doses.
As of mid-September, ChemRar sold the drug to six countries and received orders from 17 countries. Again it is no surprise that the first countries which were approached by the Kremlin – or by which the Kremlin was approached regarding Avifavir – belonged in large part to the post-Soviet space, namely Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Sputnik V and Avifavir were not made to win the race for hegemony over the world – that is a competition which is being fought between the United States and China – but to keep control over the Russosphere and help improve Russia’s position in the Global South.