A heated row has broken out between Moscow and Brussels after the European Commission president appeared to imply Russia is putting the diplomatic benefits of its coronavirus vaccine ahead of inoculating its citizens back home.
Ursula von der Leyen told journalists on Wednesday that her team has been wondering “why Russia is offering theoretically millions of millions of doses while not sufficiently progressing in vaccinating their own people?” She added that “this is also a question I think should be answered.”
In a furious response issued by Moscow’s Permanent Mission to the EU on Thursday, diplomats hit back at the bloc’s leader, saying they were “perplexed to hear the assessments.”
Officials added that von der Leyen’s claim “is either an effort to politicize the issue in an unsubstantiated and, indeed, deplorable way, or indicates an inadequate level of awareness of the top-level official.”
According to them, rolling out the vaccine to Russian citizens has been “an absolute priority,” but that the country is offering “the principle of co-operation in combatting the common threat” of Covid-19 to all nations, without any political strings attached. “Our country is ready to provide any state with full information on the invention of Russian scientists, as well as trial batches of Sputnik V,” they added.
This is not the first time von der Leyen has caused controversy over the EU’s vaccination efforts, which have languished behind those of countries like the UK, the US, Israel and Serbia. Earlier this week, Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian Prime Minister and a prominent MEP, slammed the bloc’s chief for making the “fiasco” of its jab-procurement strategy worse, and for triggering a “diplomatic disaster” with Britain over supplies.
Earlier this month, the German politician admitted that her team had made “mistakes” in its efforts to get hold of sufficient quantities of vaccines to inoculate the populations of member states. She described neighboring UK as a “speedboat,” cutting ahead of Brussels’ bureaucracy and scooping up supplies before the EU’s collective process could. An attempt to ban the export of jabs to Britain, however, caused a furious reaction and was quickly reversed.
Sputnik V, developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute, is still under consideration by the EU’s central regulator, the European Medicines Agency (EMA). After data published in the Lancet showed its effectiveness was 91.6 percent against the virus overall, and 100 percent against severe cases, German Chancellor Angela Merkel indicated she was open to her country using the jab, subject to the green light from the regulator. “We have received good data today from the Russian vaccine,” she said. “Every vaccine is welcome in the EU, but only after it has been approved by EMA.”
Earlier this month, the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which financed the development of the formula, announced that it “has official confirmation from the EMA that the application was accepted” and that it may soon apply for a registration certificate for use by EU members.
However, a disagreement was ignited shortly after that, when the EMA claimed it hadn’t actually received an application from the developers. The team behind Sputnik V took to social media to post evidence that they say confirms the relevant documents had been uploaded on January 29 to the online Heads of Medicines Agencies portal.
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