European Officials See Politics Behind Sputnik Balkan Delay

European officials believe Russia delayed deliveries of the Sputnik V vaccine to North Macedonia for geopolitical reasons.

The reason why, according to two officials familiar with the matter, is that North Macedonia was one of three western Balkan countries to sign up to a declaration in January and to human rights sanctions at the end of March over opposition politician Alexey Navalny’s arrest. The Russian vaccine producer denied the allegations.

The official reason provided by Russia to North Macedonia is that postponements were caused by production and demand issues, an official from North Macedonia’s government said. A senior EU diplomat said the move was directly linked to support for the Navalny-related measures. Both spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the matter.

Russia has touted its Sputnik V vaccine as a quality alternative to western-produced versions that have drawn criticism that richer countries are engaging in vaccine nationalism, creating a world of haves and have-nots regarding immunity. European governments have accused Moscow of engaging in “vaccine diplomacy” and using its shots as a geo-political propaganda tool, which Russia denies.

Russian Denial

The Russian Direct Investment Fund said on Tuesday that it was executing Sputnik V supplies to North Macedonia in line with the agreed contract.

“There is no politics when it comes to vaccine cooperation,” the fund said in an emailed statement. “Suggestions that politics plays a role in Sputnik V supplies are completely wrong and go against RDIF’s long-held belief that this pandemic can only be defeated through global partnership.”

North Macedonia received the first 3,000 doses out of 200,000 on March 8 and another supply on March 28, according to Health Minister Venko Filipche. A spokesman for North Macedonia’s government said there was no delay.

“We have received a certain amount of doses and we expect the rest to be delivered soon,” spokesman Dushko Arsovski said in a message.

Still, production issues have recently been linked to delays in the delivery of Sputnik elsewhere, including in Mexico. RDIF denied problems with manufacturing, saying it is ramping up output.

The EU is funding the delivery of 651,000 vaccine doses to the Western Balkans between May and August to complement supplies distributed through the international COVAX program.

The bloc’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said Tuesday after meeting North Macedonia’s prime minister, Zoran Zaev, that the bloc had just delivered his government shots with no conditionality.

“It is very important that you very courageously -- and sometimes paying a price -- you have been aligning with our Common Foreign and Security Policy,” Borrell said. “We just delivered the first batch of a total of 120,000 fully EU-financed vaccines for North Macedonia. And this comes without a string attached.”

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