Secretive Russia Deal Allows Erdogan Ally to Produce Sputnik V

A close ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is preparing to produce Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine under a months-old deal shrouded in secrecy.

Ozturk Oran, the chairman of Islamic bank Vakif Katilim and owner of the VisCoran Ilac Sanayii pharmaceutical company, signed an agreement with the Russian Direct Investment Fund to manufacture the vaccine in Turkey. Kirill Dmitriev, the head of the Russian fund, confirmed a joint production agreement with a Turkish company but declined to identify it.

Oran, who’s been close to Erdogan since the early days of the president’s political movement, told Bloomberg that VisCoran signed the agreement on Aug. 16, long before the Russian vaccine’s efficacy was found to be over 90% in scientific studies. Privately held VisCoran doesn’t have the capability to mass produce the Sputnik V, so the bulk of the work will likely be outsourced to one of the few Turkish firms that have the technical capacity to do it, Oran said.

Both Oran and Dmitriev declined to provide a manufacturing timeline.

Blessed by Putin, Erdogan

Negotiations for joint production began after Russian President Vladimir Putin brought it up with Erdogan, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in December.

The two leaders have brought their countries closer militarily and commercially in recent years, spurring concern among Turkey’s older allies in the West that the government in Ankara might be getting too close to Moscow. Turkey’s decision to buy Russian anti-missile defenses has already triggered U.S. sanctions and got the Turkish military suspended from joint production of F-35 fighter jets.

Dmitriev brushed aside any political connection to the Sputnik V deal, saying it’s natural for Turkish companies to be interested in getting a license for “the best vaccine in the world.”

According to Oran, Turkey may end up producing more shots than it needs for its 83 million citizens and the 5 million refugees it hosts, allowing exports to the rest of the world.

Turkey has an agreement with China to buy 50 million doses of Sinovac Biotech Ltd.’s CoronaVac vaccine by the end of March, and a deal for 4.5 million additional doses of the shot made by U.S.-based Pfizer Inc. and Germany’s BioNTech SE. It also has a few domestic vaccine projects still under trial.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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