Putin Got Vaccinated, But Still Only a Select Few Can Meet Him
(Bloomberg) -- United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres met with Russia’s prime minister, foreign minister and even university students during his visit to Moscow this week. Though he was steps away from the Kremlin, all he got from President Vladimir Putin was a video call.
The Russian leader announced April 14 that he’d received his second vaccination shot, yet in-person meetings remain a privilege for the select few and it’s hard to predict who makes the cut. Close allies like the leaders of Belarus, Armenia and Tajikistan do, but the head of the hockey federation also enjoyed a meeting with Putin in Sochi. On Monday, the president played an ice hockey game with top officials and former players.
The Kremlin says each case is decided individually in consultation with epidemiologists. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov wouldn’t elaborate on what about Guterres had raised suspicions, given that the UN chief held maskless in-person talks with so many other top officials. The standard for the head of state is higher, he said.
“Anyone can be a carrier of the coronavirus,” Peskov told reporters on a conference call. “If a person actively moves around the world, is flying and holds many meetings, then, of course, in the case of the head of state, this is a reason for additional precautions.”
Guterres, who’s met Putin face-to-face at least three times on previous visits to Russia, displayed no disappointment with the Kremlin’s decision.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who made the first visit to Moscow by a top EU official since 2017 in February, didn’t even get a video call, though he did receive a dressing down from Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Michael Kretschmer, state premier of Germany’s Saxony, had a phone conversation with Putin when he visited Moscow last month.
Putin has repeatedly touted the effectiveness of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine to other world leaders, even as he’s refused to say which of three domestically-produced inoculations he took. He said Monday that doctors recorded a “good result” in the level of his protective antibodies. Peskov said Putin is in “excellent” health.
Some officials who have met Putin said they first had to spend days in quarantine, as do journalists who are in close proximity to the president at public events. Putin continues to meet government ministers mostly via videoconference, though many of them have also vaccinated.
Days before Guterres visited, Putin, who doesn’t wear a mask, walked alongside Tajik President Emomali Rahmon at the annual Red Square military parade marking the World War II victory.
To be sure, other world leaders have also been cautious about meetings, even after recovering from Covid-19 or getting vaccinated. Leaders of the Group of Seven nations will gather in person in the U.K. next month for the first time since the outbreak.
Decisions about Putin’s meetings are guided “each time” by medical specialists, and even the format of a summit with U.S. President Joe Biden that may take place next month will be “a subject for consideration by epidemiologists,” Peskov said.
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