The European Commission has concluded exploratory talks with a pharmaceutical company to purchase a potential vaccine against COVID-19. The envisaged contract with Sanofi-GSK* would provide for an option for all EU Member States to purchase the vaccine. It is envisaged that, once a vaccine has proven to be safe and effective against COVID-19, the Commission would have a contractual framework in place for the purchase of 300 million doses, on behalf of all EU Member States. The Commission continues intensive discussions with other vaccine manufacturers.
President von der Leyen said: “The European Commission does all in its power to ensure that Europeans have rapid access to a vaccine that is safe and protects them from coronavirus. Today’s step with Sanofi-GSK is a first important cornerstone of a much broader European Vaccines Strategy. More will follow soon. We are in advanced discussions with several other companies. While we do not know today which vaccine will work best in the end, Europe is investing in a diversified portfolio of promising vaccines, based on various types of technologies. This increases our chances to obtain rapidly an effective remedy against the virus. A vaccine would be a truly global good. We are committed to help secure access also for more vulnerable countries to find their way out of this crisis.”
Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said: “A safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine is the surest exit strategy from the crisis. For that reason, we have been negotiating a united EU approach to secure doses of promising vaccine candidates in recent weeks. Today’s announcement of the conclusion of exploratory talks with Sanofi-GSK is the first important step in this direction, to provide equal access to the vaccine for our citizens.”
The exploratory talks concluded today are intended to result in an Advance Purchase Agreement to be financed with the Emergency Support Instrument, which has funds dedicated to the creation of a portfolio of potential vaccines with different profiles and produced by different companies.
The European Commission is also committed to ensuring that everyone who needs a vaccine gets it, anywhere in the world and not only at home. No one will be safe until everyone is safe.
This is why it has raised almost €16 billion since 4 May 2020 under the Coronavirus Global Response, the global action for universal access to tests, treatments and vaccines against coronavirus and for the global recovery.
The Commission is also ready to explore with international partners if a significant number of countries would agree to pool resources for jointly reserving future vaccines from companies for themselves as well as for low and middle-income countries at the same time. The high-income countries could act as an inclusive international buyers’ group, thus accelerating the development of safe and effective vaccines and maximise access to them for all who need it across the world.
The European Commission presented on 17 June a European strategy to accelerate the development, manufacturing and deployment of effective and safe vaccines against COVID-19. In return for the right to buy a specified number of vaccine doses in a given timeframe, the Commission would finance part of the upfront costs faced by vaccines producers in the form of Advance Purchase Agreements. Funding provided would be considered as a down-payment on the vaccines that will actually be purchased by Member States.
Since the high cost and high failure rate make investing in a COVID-19 vaccine a high-risk decision for vaccine developers, these agreements will therefore allow investments to be made that otherwise would simply probably not happen.
Sanofi-GSK’s vaccine candidate is planning to seek marketing authorisation from EMA in June 2021, following Phase III clinical trials yielding the induction of a promising immune response.
Shoigu: Moscow and Tehran are reaching a new level of interaction
Russian delegation headed by Russian Defence Minister General of the Army Sergei Shoigu arrived in Tehran for talks with the military leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran (photo).
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran held a formal greeting ceremony for the Russian delegation outside its main building, which was attended by a guard of honour and a military band.
Mohammad Bagheri, Chief of Staff for the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran, greeted the Russian Minister of Defence.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has discussed topical issues of Russian–Iranian military cooperation during talks with Chief of General Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Mohammad Bagheri on Tuesday.
‘I consider our meeting as another step towards strengthening the strategic partnership between Russia and Iran. Today we have an opportunity to discuss thoroughly topical issues of bilateral military cooperation,’ Sergei Shoigu said.
The head of the Russian defence ministry stressed that ‘Iran is Russia’s strategic partner in the Middle East’.
According to the Russian Defence Minister, Russian-Iranian relations in the military sphere tends to develop actively and positively.
‘Recently, the intensity of meetings has increased significantly, both at the highest level and at the level of the leadership of military departments. We see in this a common view of building a world order based on equality of rights for all participants in international relations,’ the Russian Defence Minister said.
Sergei Shoigu suggested discussing topical issues of bilateral military cooperation mentioning that ‘this is, of course, both Syria and Afghanistan, and current situation in Karabakh’.
In addition, continued the Russian Defence Minister, ‘there are a lot of other issues to be discussed today and tomorrow. These include educational issues, exchange of experience, exchange of delegations, joint naval exercises,’ the Russian Defence Minister said.
‘We are aimed at implementing the entire range of planned activities, despite opposition from the United States and its Western allies. Sanctions pressure on Russia and Iran are demonstrating their futility, while Russian-Iranian interaction is reaching a new level,’ Sergei Shoigu said during discussions with Iranian Minister of Defence and Armed Forces Logistics Mohammad-Reza Gharaei Ashtiani on Wednesday.
At the same time, he expressed readiness ‘for further joint action in the field of strengthening stability and security in the Middle East’.
‘We note with delight,’ the head of the Russian Defence Ministry stated, ‘that the Iranian-Russian communication is progressing particularly intensely today’. According to him, this is largely due to the trusting relations that have developed between the leaders of Russia and Iran.
The Russian Defense Minister stressed that ‘the high dynamics of the meetings confirms the general mood for further strengthening of strategic partnership in the defence sphere and military cooperation’.
He invited his counterpart to discuss a number of issues of mutual interest during the talks.
Sharp deterioration of the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry announced the beginning of a limited anti-terrorist operation in Nagorno-Karabakh. The ministry said the operation aims to ensure the implementation of the trilateral agreement between Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia of 2020 and the disarmament and withdrawal of Armenian troops from the territory.
Yerevan said that Baku seeks to “complete the policy of ethnic cleansing” and that Armenia doesn’t have any troops stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh. Russia called on the sides to stop the bloodshed and try to work things out diplomatically.
Azerbaijani anti-terrorist measures
On September 19, Azerbaijan announced it was starting to carry out limited anti-terrorist measures in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The country’s Defense Ministry said it plans to ensure the implementation of the trilateral statement of the leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia of November 9, 2020, as well as suppress “large-scale acts of provocation in the Karabakh economic region.” The goal of the measures, according to the Azerbaijani ministry, is also the disarmament and withdrawal of Armenian troops from the area and the neutralization of their military infrastructure.
Baku intends to ensure the “restoration of constitutional order in the Republic of Azerbaijan” and the security of civilians, civil servants and Azerbaijani military personnel.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said civilian facilities wouldn’t be targeted, but the positions held by the formations of the Armenian Armed Forces, their long-term firing points, as well as military equipment and structures will be liquidated.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry also said that it had informed the command of the Russian peacekeeping contingent and the leadership of the Turkish-Russian Monitoring Center about its plans. Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov also notified his Turkish counterpart Yasar Guler about the situation. Guler said Turkey is standing by Azerbaijan.
Situation on the ground
Baku stated that Armenian forces are firing their artillery guns at the positions of the Azerbaijani army located in the area of the Agdam District. Azerbaijani forces are retaliating.
To evacuate people from the dangerous areas in Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan has set up humanitarian corridors and pick-up points on Lachin road and in some other places. The civilian population was urged to stay away from military installations.
Azerbaijan also denied reports circulating in the Armenian segment of global social networks about the shelling of civilian facilities in Karabakh by Azerbaijani units. Baku added that “only legitimate military targets are being put out of commission.”
Yerevan stated that Armenia doesn’t have any troops stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh, while “Azerbaijani official reports and news media continue to make false claims” to the contrary. According to the Armenian Defense Ministry, as of 2:00 p.m., the situation on the country’s borders was relatively stable.
Armenia said it believes that “Azerbaijan has unleashed another large-scale act of aggression against the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, seeking to complete the policy of ethnic cleansing.”
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan convened a meeting of the Security Council to discuss the situation. He said the situation on Armenia’s borders is stable and Yerevan does not plan to take rash steps. Also, according to Pashinyan, Russian peacekeepers should respond to the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh.
A protest is taking place outside the Armenian government building in downtown Yerevan. About 500 protesters are blaming the country’s leadership including Pashinyan for policies that have led to the current situation in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Statements from Russia
Russia is deeply alarmed by the sharp escalation of the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said. Moscow calls on the conflicting sides to stop the bloodshed and return to a political and diplomatic settlement.
Despite the escalating situation, Russian peacekeepers continue to carry out their mission. Russia assumes that the security of the peacekeeping contingent “will be unconditionally ensured by all sides.” Zakharova denied allegations that Azerbaijan had warned Russian peacekeepers ahead of today’s “anti-terrorist operation.”
“This has no basis in reality. The information was communicated to the Russian contingent a few minutes before the start of hostilities,” the spokeswoman said.
According to Zakharova, Russia also is currently in talks on the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, including with Azerbaijan. The ministry will make a statement on the results of these talks, she said.
Zakharova also noted that all steps for the peaceful resolution of the Karabakh problem are laid out in the trilateral statements of the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, which were adopted in the period from 2020 to 2022. According to the spokeswoman, Russia and other international mediators have recently begun to establish serious conditions for progress in the peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem, including humanitarian aid to the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.
In response to calls by Armenia for Russian peacekeepers and the UN Security Council to take measures to stop hostilities, Zakharova reminded Yerevan in a statement on Telegram that Armenia had officially recognized Nagorno-Karabakh as a part of Azerbaijan.
Baku will end its anti-terrorist activities in Nagorno-Karabakh if Armenian fighters lay down their weapons, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said in a phone call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, according to the presidential press service.
“The head of state said that anti-terrorist activities would end if weapons were laid down,” the press service said in a statement.
Aliyev also stated that Armenian units had to disarm. He stressed that civilians and infrastructure facilities weren’t the target of the anti-terrorist activities and the Azerbaijani Armed Forces were only destroying legitimate military targets.
The Azerbaijani president pointed out that his administration had repeatedly invited representatives of Karabakh’s Armenian population to engage in dialogue to discuss reintegration but they had refused. Still, in Aliyev’s words, they were once again invited to dialogue after the local anti-terrorist activities had been launched.
Aliyev noted that Azerbaijan was forced to start the local anti-terrorist activities in the region “to put an end to the provocative and inflammatory actions of the Armenian side.” In this regard, he mentioned that an Armenian sabotage and reconnaissance group had laid mines in Karabakh, which resulted in the death of civilians and law enforcement officers, while Azerbaijani army units had come under mortar and small-arms fire.
“President Ilham Aliyev emphasized that these activities, as well as the move to hold the so-called presidential election in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan on September 9, were the continuation of deliberate provocative steps by Armenia and the so-called separatist entity that it created and supports, aimed against Azerbaijan’s sovereignty,” the statement said.
According to the Azerbaijani presidential press service, Blinken expressed concern about the situation, called for a ceasefire and said that the US supported direct dialogue between Baku and the Armenian population of Karabakh.
At least seven Nagorno-Karabakh civilians died and 35 were injured as a result of military hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenpress news agency reported, citing data of Nagorno-Karabakh human rights commissioner Gegham Stepanyan.
“Thirty-five civilians were injured: 13 children, 15 women and seven men. Seven civilians died,” the news agency said. It was earlier reported that the mayor of Martuni, Aznavur Saghyan, was among the dead.
On September 19, tensions flared up again in Nagorno-Karabakh. Baku announced it was launching what it described as “local anti-terrorist measures” and demanded the withdrawal of Armenian troops from the region. Yerevan, in turn, said there were no Armenian forces in Karabakh, calling what was happening “an act of large-scale aggression.” Residents of the Armenian capital took to the streets to protest outside the Armenian government building, blaming the country’s leadership and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan for the situation.
The command of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh reported the evacuation of civilians and called on the parties to the conflict for an immediate ceasefire. The Russian Foreign Ministry called on the conflicting sides to prevent civilian casualties and stop the bloodshed, as well as to return to the implementation of the trilateral agreements between the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Moscow is calling on the sides to return to compliance with the trilateral agreements of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
“The most important thing now is to immediately return to compliance with the trilateral agreements signed at the top level in 2020-2022, which lay out all measures for a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue,” the ministry said in a statement, also urging the sides “to stop armed hostilities and to do everything possible in order to protect the population of Nagorno-Karabakh and defend its interests.”
“Due to a rapid escalation of armed hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh, we strongly call upon the conflicting sides to immediately stop bloodshed, cease hostilities and prevent casualties among the civilian population,” the ministry said.
“Currently, the Russian peacekeeping force is assisting the civilian population [of Nagorno-Karabakh], including providing medical aid to them, and is dealing with matters of evacuation,” the ministry said.
A full ceasefire agreement between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh has been reached through the mediation of Russian peacekeepers, the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement.
“A ceasefire agreement between the Azerbaijani side and representatives of Nagorno-Karabakh has been reached through the mediation of the command for Russia’s peacekeeping mission,” the statement reads.
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, “the agreement will be implemented in coordination with the command for the Russian peacekeeping contingent.”
The ministry said earlier that Russian peacekeeping forces in Nagorno-Karabakh continued to perform their mission amid rising tensions, providing all possible assistance to civilians. According to the ministry, a total of 2,261 civilians, including 1,049 children, are currently staying at the peacekeepers’ base camp.
Biden’s Hanoi trip was overshadowed by revelations of Vietnam’s secret Russian arms deal
The New York Times published the contents of a leaked Vietnamese government document, produced by the Ministry of Finance, revealing a covert plan for the country to procure Russian weapons in contravention of US-led sanctions on Moscow, Zero Hedge notes.
Biden met with the country’s leader Nguyen Phu Trong, and the two formally agreed to upgrade strategic ties between the US and Vietnam. But the NYT report demonstrates that “even as the United States and Vietnam have nurtured their relationship over recent months, Hanoi is making clandestine plans to buy an arsenal of weapons from Russia.”
The revelation of the document strongly suggests that any agreements reached in Hanoi which the Biden White House is now celebrating as successful are likely to be fleeting and without much depth in the near and long-term.
According to details of the document’s contents:
“The Ministry of Finance document, which is dated March 2023 and whose contents have been verified by former and current Vietnamese officials, lays out how Vietnam proposes to modernize its military by secretly paying for defense purchases through transfers at a joint Vietnamese and Russian oil venture in Siberia.
Signed by a Vietnamese deputy finance minister, the document notes that Vietnam is negotiating a new arms deal with Russia that would “strengthen strategic trust” at a time when “Russia is being embargoed by Western countries in all aspects.”
So once again, global south and non-aligned countries appear to be sticking with Russia, no matter the West’s clearly futile efforts to isolate it on the world stage.
But the report alludes to another trend – that of Western countries threatening those smaller nations that step out of line in pursuing defense or strong trade ties with Russia: “Yet by developing its secret plan to pay for Russian defense equipment, Vietnam is stepping into the center of a larger security contest that is steeped both in Cold War politics and the hot war of the moment, in Ukraine,” NYT underscores.
The leaked document at one point reads: “Our party and state still identify Russia as the most important strategic partner in defense and security.”
Vietnam has of course historically relied heavily on Russia for weapons, and by all appearances will continue to do so, despite the longtime efforts of Washington to sway the southeast Asian country to a more westward trajectory. When it comes in Russian exports in general, more broadly in the geopolitical neighborhood there seems an increasing trend of individual countries like Vietnam saying, “But everyone’s doing it”.
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