President Vladimir Putin has praised the entire healthcare system, and particularly the hard-working team of scientists and specialists from different institutions for their efforts at research and creating a series of coronavirus vaccines for use against the coronavirus both at home and abroad. Three vaccines already registered in Russia, two of them – Sputnik V and EpiVacCorona – are produced in large quantities by Russian pharmaceutical companies and are currently used for vaccination. It is additionally planned to rollout another one – CoviVac.
Despite the pandemic-related challenges, the domestic pharmaceutical companies, in conjunction with research institutes, have managed to accomplish a multitude of objectives in order to deploy new vaccine production sites in a short amount of time, Putin said during a videoconference meeting focused on increasing the manufacturing capacity of COVID-19 vaccines and the progress of vaccination in Russia.
Unreservedly made reference to staff qualities such as consistent and effective hard-work, truly selfless work and responsible attitude, and further urged them to continue making relentless efforts in stabilising the spread of the coronavirus infections and in protecting the life and health of millions of people in the country.
Putin further noted that the implementation of a wide range of preventive measures, including widespread vaccination, has played a significant role in normalising the epidemic situation. Overall, 6.3 million Russians have taken the first part of the vaccine, of these 4.3 million have been vaccinated in full, that is, they have received both vaccine components.
“We can safely say, and the practical results indisputably corroborate, the fact that the Russian vaccines are absolutely safe and dependable. Our success is recognised abroad as well. The number of countries using the Sputnik V vaccine is expanding fast, more countries around the world are showing interest in our vaccine with 55 countries having authorised its use,” he told the meeting.
In addition, Russia now has a number of contracts with foreign manufacturers, – these are foreign manufacturers who will be producing our vaccine on their territory – have been signed for the number of doses needed to vaccinate 700 million people per year. The latest, it has signed a contract with an Indian company for doses to vaccinate 100 million people. Indisputably, working with 55 countries means a total population of 1.4 billion. There are plans to expand the number of partner countries and that will reach estimated 2.5 billion people.
While Russia and its pharmaceutical companies are considering the dynamics of the global market and the demand for Russian-made vaccines, and expanding their production capacities, it equally places emphasis on domestic needs, supplying and vaccinating Russian citizens with vaccines, is an absolute priority. It is estimated that at least 60 percent of all adults in the country must be vaccinated for complete stabilisation. This requires 69.8 million sets of vaccine doses. At any rate, there are more than 20 million Sputnik V doses, according to Russian president, quoting his Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin.
In his contribution at the meeting, Minister of Industry Denis Manturov informed that under the plan, 12.5 million sets of the vaccine must be produced in March. The planned figure for April is 17 million. It is planned to continue building up production so as to have over 80 million of two-component doses by the first six months.
According to him, all these amounts will be primarily used to vaccinate Russian citizens. In order to meet the global demand for Russian vaccines, his ministry is working on scaling up production of vaccines and on transferring technology abroad. It already has comprehensive agreements on this with manufacturers in 10 countries.
Healthcare Minister Mikhail Murashko informed the meeting about organisations that keep monitoring the virus’s mutations, including those in Russia. “We are analysing the efficiency of medicines for preventing the disease caused by various strains. This work is ongoing continuously and involves several agencies,” he said, and further mentioned the need to increase the speed of vaccination.
By the end of March, our healthcare facilities will receive over 6.5 million dozes of Sputnik V. We expect that a total of some 30 million dozes will be delivered in April and May. As of now, there are 4,500 stationary vaccination stations across Russia, and plans to increase this figure, as well as over 1,000 mobile stations.
Participating in the meeting, Pharmstandard Chairman of the Board Viktor Kharitonin also discussed production capability of the vaccine and pointed to the successful completion of the transfer of laboratory technology, scaled and fine-tuned the manufacturing technology abroad.
“It should be specifically pointed out that, thanks to our cooperation with the Russian Direct Investment Fund, we have started supplying the vaccine to foreign markets. We have already transferred the production technology to Kazakhstan and Belarus and continue working with other countries, including India and Italy. In Italy, Sputnik V was highly praised by both scientists and our colleagues from pharmaceutical companies,” added Kharitonin.
Taking his turn, Chairman of the Board of the R-Pharm Group Alexei Repik talked about efforts that are currently focused on the creation and manufacturing of new forms of the vaccine that will be easier to use and also to transport. He noted that it will increase the attractiveness of the vaccines on foreign markets, including countries with a hot climate: the Middle East, Africa and Latin America.
“Our factory is now producing the first registration batches of a promising lyophilic form of the vaccine created by our experts. It has proved stable at temperatures between +2 and +8 C. We are now studying its stability at room temperature. There are grounds to believe that we will succeed. This form will allow us to make the vaccine available in hard-to-reach regions of the country, which is especially important ahead of the spring and summer period,” informed Alexei Repik.
Director of the Gamaleya National Research Centre for Epidemiology and Microbiology Alexander Gintsburg also highlighted a few aspects of the vaccine production and about documents for registration. According to him, the Gamaleya Research Centre also addresses the problem of expanding the production of the Sputnik Light vaccine.
In addition, as the holder of the registration certificate, the Centre assumes all responsibility for quality control of this vaccine at all enterprises where it is manufactured in this country and abroad.
Moreover, the Centre is directly involved in launching contractual production that is mostly organised by the Russian Direct Investment Fund. The Centre has prepared the entire package of documents for registering the Sputnik Light vaccine in 55 countries. Considering that each country has its own regulatory system, this is not a fixed package of documents that will apply everywhere, therefore it has to adapt it to every country’s regulatory system.
He further spoke about The Lancet, a highly prestigious and popular medical journal, that published two articles on the results of scientific data and clinical trials. This provides important scientific evidence proving the vaccine’s efficacy, this has completely eliminated the Western academic community’ scepticism regarding the vaccines’ quality and efficacy.
Alexander Gintsburg explained a little about children’s vaccination. According to him, children must be divided into several age groups. Russian experts and specialists in paediatric immunology are working in this direction. He said that a vaccine has been developed, patented, and are currently launching clinical trials of Sputnik V’s intranasal form. This is a very gentle and patient-friendly form of vaccination for children, especially little children, who can be traumatised when they see a syringe or when possible side effects arise. The first experiments show that the intranasal form is completely free from any side effects.
CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) Kirill Dmitriev stressed patent protection and about protecting intellectual rights for Russian made vaccines and other medical products. “Our patent protection is very strong. We submitted applications early on, much earlier than other countries, and thus got a headstart. Accordingly, the Gamaleya Institute owns the innovations that are available even at these foreign sites, which include over 20 partner companies in 10 countries,” he told the meeting.
On foreign cooperation, “Mr President, I would like to thank you, because it was your idea to build production partnerships with various countries, and 20 manufacturers from over 10 countries responded. For them, it’s about vaccine safety and independence, and Russia was the only country to have come up with this offer. Thank you very much. They are very grateful to you for this,” Kirill Dmitriev said in appreciation.
Director General of the Vektor State Research Centre of Virology and Biotechnology Rinat Maksyutov discussed various research operations. Vektor is the only WHO COVID-19 reference laboratory in Russia. It not only conducts the entire range of viral studies of the novel coronavirus, but is also monitoring its genetic mutations across the country on a regular basis.
“By now, we have found over 5,300 genetic variations across the genome. In the overwhelming number of cases, the replacement does not change the epidemiological characteristics of the virus. At the same time, we have also found over 50 variations of the British strain, three cases of the South African strain and over 20 unique variations of the virus that must be thoroughly studied,” he said.
According to Rinat Maksyutov, the Research Centre Vektor is studying these variations of the virus in accordance with a special algorithm. “We are studying the virus’s stability on various surfaces; we are also using unique equipment, which has no analogues throughout the world, to study the ability of the virus to be transmitted between living organisms. We have found that the British strain of the novel coronavirus can be effectively neutralised by serum taken from those who had COVID and those vaccinated with Sputnik V or EpiVacCorona,” he told the meeting.
Director General of the Chumakov Federal Scientific Centre for the Research and Development of Immune and Biological Products (Russian Academy of Sciences) Aidar Ishmukhametov spoke about their engagement and involvement in research and production of medical products, tracing its roots to the Soviet Union.
The Chumakov Centre is one of the oldest facilities in the Russian Federation and the oldest vaccine developer in Russia. That in the 1960s, this centre’s achievements helped the country deal with polio. The centre back then developed a unique vaccine that supplied to the entire world, including the United States, Europe, Japan and many other countries. In fact, now this facility, the Institute of Poliomyelitis, is well-known around the world.
It is continuing this tradition. As of today, it has developed and produced five vaccines, including for tick-borne encephalitis, rabies and the yellow fever vaccine that is supplied to almost 50 countries, which is perhaps Russia’s biggest export in the pharmaceutical industry.
This type of organisation that has a research and development facility at its core that can outline the task and release a certain number of batches of the vaccine consisting of tens of millions [of doses], on one hand, and well-coordinated work with research institutes and the search for partners, on the other hand, is a very efficient model.
“We did not intend to work exclusively on the coronavirus vaccine. It was important to us to maintain the same production volume and supply vaccines according to the national vaccination calendar as well as deliver on the exports. So we needed to fit this new objective into our existing model. We inherited this research and development facility from the Soviet Union where it was a leader in this industry, and we are developing it,” he underlined the importance of his institution at the meeting.
CEO of the National Immunobiological Company, Rostec State Corporation, Andrei Zagorsky, however, noted that vaccine production is growing steadily. He highlighted the question of warehousing (storage), freezer facility and shipping to the regions. This is carried out in close cooperation with the manufacturing sites, as well as cargo recipients in the regions. These tasks are fulfilled on schedule, he said.
“We monitor the entire production process, especially the temperature, all the way from production, transport, acceptance to a warehouse, storage at the warehouse, to shipment to a recipient region. All products are transported in thermal containers, which can keep temperatures at 18 degrees below zero Celsius for about five days,” he added, speaking at the meeting.
Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova concluded with high appreciation. The meeting ended with clear understanding in what direction should be moving to overcoming the coronavirus pandemic and at the same time, extend assistance to foreign countries that are in need. She, however, reiterated that, in a fairly short time, despite the difficulties and amid the challenging pandemic of 2020, all her colleagues have indeed accomplished something that seemed almost impossible, worked 24/7 and made Russia the leader in the production and use of vaccines, primarily, for the public in Russia.
Russia lacks sufficient number of migrants to fulfill its ambitious development plans
Despite various official efforts, including regular payment of maternal capital to stimulate birth rates and regulating migration policy to boost population, Russia is reportedly experiencing decreasing population. According to the Federal State Statistics Service, Russia’s population currently stands at approximately 144 million, down from 148.3 million.
Experts at the Higher School of Economics believe that regulating the legal status of migrants, majority of them arriving from the Commonwealth of Independent States or the former Soviet republics, could be useful or resourceful for developing the economy, especially on various infrastructure projects planned for country. These huge human resources could be used in the vast agricultural fields to boost domestic agricultural production. On the contrary, the Federal Migration Service plans to deport all illegal migrants from Russia.
Within the long-term sustainable development program, Russia has multibillion dollar plans to address its infrastructure deficit especially in the provinces, and undertake megaprojects across its vast territory, and migrant labor could be useful here. The government can ensure that steady improvements are consistently made with the strategy of legalizing (regulating legal status) and redeploying the available foreign labor, majority from the former Soviet republics rather than deporting back to their countries of origin.
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has been credited for transforming the city into a very neat and smart modern one, thanks partly to foreign labor – invaluable reliable asset – performing excellently in maintaining cleanliness and on the large-scale construction sites, and so also in various micro-regions on the edge or outskirts of Moscow.
With its accumulated experience, the Moscow City Hall has now started hosting the Smart Cities Moscow, international forum dedicated to the development of smart cities and for discussing about changes in development strategies, infrastructure challenges and adaptation of the urban environment to the realities of the new normal society.
Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russia lacks sufficient number of migrants to fulfill its ambitious development plans. He further acknowledged that the number of migrants in Russia has reduced significantly, and now their numbers are not sufficient to implement ambitious projects in the country.
“I can only speak about the real state of affairs, which suggests that, in fact, we have very few migrants remaining over the past year. Actually, we have a severe dearth of these migrants to implement our ambitious plans,” the Kremlin spokesman pointed out.
In particular, it concerns projects in agricultural and construction sectors. “We need to build more than we are building now. It should be more tangible, and this requires working hands. There is certainly a shortage in migrants. Now there are few of them due to the pandemic,” Peskov said.
Early April, an official from the Russian Interior Ministry told TASS News Agency that the number of illegal migrants working in Russia decreased by 40% in 2020 if compared to the previous year. It also stated that 5.5 million foreign citizens were registered staying in Russia last year, while the average figure previously ranged between nine and eleven million.
On March 30, 2021, President Vladimir Putin chaired the tenth meeting of the Presidential Council for Interethnic Relations via videoconference, noted that tackling the tasks facing the country needs not only an effective economy but also competent management. For a huge multinational state such as Russia, it is fundamentally, and even crucially important, to ensure public solidarity and a feeling of involvement in the life, and responsibility for its present and future.
At this moment, over 80 percent of Russian citizens have a positive view on interethnic relations, and it is important in harmonizing interethnic relations in the country, Putin noted during the meeting, and added “Russia has a unique and original heritage of its peoples. It is part of our common wealth, it should be accessible to every resident of our country, every citizen, everyone who lives on this land. Of course, we will need to review the proposal to extend the terms for temporary stay of minors of foreign citizens in the Russian Federation.”
President Vladimir Putin has already approved a list of instructions aimed at reforming the migration requirements and the institution of citizenship in Russia based on the proposals drafted by the working group for implementation of the State Migration Policy Concept of the Russian Federation for 2019-2025.
“Within the framework of the working group for implementation of the State Migration Policy Concept of the Russian Federation for 2019-2025, the Presidential Executive Office of the Russian Federation shall organize work aimed at reforming the migration requirements and the institution of citizenship of the Russian Federation,” an official statement posted to Kremlin website.
In addition, the president ordered the Government, the Interior and Foreign Ministries, the Federal Security Service (FSB), and the Justice Ministry alongside the Presidential Executive Office to make amendments to the plan of action for 2019-2021, aimed at implementing the State Migration Policy Concept of the Russian Federation for 2019-2025.
Nobody Wants a War in Donbass
Any escalation is unique in its own way. Right now there’s a combination of unfavorable trends on both sides, which are leading to an escalation of the conflict. This combination creates additional risks and threats that weren’t there before.
On the Ukrainian side, the problem is that the president is losing his political position and becoming a hostage of right-wing and nationalist forces. Many of the reform initiatives that he came to power with have stalled. Political sentiments are changing within his faction. They’re saying that with his recent steps, in particular the language law and the closure of television stations that Kyiv dislikes, he’s starting to stray towards the agenda of his predecessor, Poroshenko. And this means a weakening of his position. Probably, he’s already thinking about re-election and how he will look during the campaign. Here, the trend is unfavorable.
On the other hand, there’s the arrival of Biden, who will always be more attentive to Ukraine than Trump. There’s an expectation that the U.S. will be more consistent and decisive in its support for the Ukrainian side in the event of a conflict. This invigorates the forces that are looking for an escalation.
The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh also played a role. They said there was only a political path to resolving the conflict, but in Karabakh [the Azerbaijanis] used force and made real progress. This motivates the people who think that military force can resolve a conflict. Moreover, Ukraine is carrying out defense cooperation with Turkey, so there may be hopes that the balance of forces will shift in Kyiv’s favor.
There’s also a radicalization of the political leadership of the DNR and LNR. They say that [full-scale] war is, if not inevitable, than very likely—and Russia must intervene. The idea that the DNR and LNR should join Russia is gaining popularity once again. This is facilitated by Russia’s actions. In the last two years, the mechanisms for granting Russian citizenship to residents of the LNR and DNR have changed. Hundreds of thousands of LNR and DNR residents are already citizens of the Russian Federation, and Russia has—or at the very least should have—some obligations towards its citizens. This gives hope to [the residents] of the LNR and DNR that if an escalation begins, Russia won’t remain on the sidelines and we will see large-scale intervention. Without Russia, the conflict will not develop in the favor of the republics.
As for Russia, our relations with the West continue to deteriorate. There’s Biden’s statement about Putin being a killer, and relations with the European Union. We are witnessing an accumulation of destabilizing trends.
I don’t think anyone wants a real, big war, since the costs of such a conflict will exceed the political dividends. It’s difficult to predict what such a conflict might lead to, given that the stakes are very high. But an unintended escalation could occur.
Hopefully, all of those involved have enough wisdom, determination, and tolerance to find a positive solution. So far, we are far from a serious conflict, but we’re closer than at the beginning of April 2020 or 2019. Unfortunately, we’re headed downhill, and it’s difficult to say how long it will go on.
To prevent a [full-scale] war from starting, the situation in Donbass needs to be stabilized. That’s the first task. In recent weeks, the number of ceasefire violations has been increasing, and the number of victims is growing. We need to return to the issues of the withdrawal of heavy weapons, the OSCE mission, and monitoring the ceasefire.
The second task is to discuss issues of political regulation. The main uncertainty is how flexible all the parties can be. The Minsk agreements were signed a long time ago, [but] it’s difficult to implement them in full, there needs to be a demonstrated willingness not to revise them, but to somehow bring them up to date. How ready are the parties for this? So far, we aren’t seeing much of this, but without it we will not advance any further.
The third issue is that it’s impossible to resolve the Donbass problem separately from the problem of European security as a whole. If we limit ourselves to how we fought in Donbass, Kyiv will always be afraid that Russia will build up its strength and an intervention will begin. And in Russia there will always be the fear that NATO infrastructure will be developed near Voronezh and Belgorod. We have to deal not only with this issue, but also think about how to create the entire architecture of European security. And it isn’t a question of experts lacking imagination and qualifications, but of statesmen lacking the political will to seriously deal with these issues. Because if you reduce everything to the requirements of the formal implementation of the Minsk agreements, this is what we’ve been fighting about for seven years already.
I think that Ukraine will now try to increase the political pressure on Moscow and get away from the issue of the Minsk agreements. And going forward a lot depends on what the position of the West and U.S. will be. To what extent and in what format will they provide support in the event of an escalation? This is still an open question. And, I think, even Biden doesn’t know the answer to it.
From our partner RIAC
Updating the USSR: A Test for Freedom
Thirty years ago, on March 17, 1991, the only all-Union referendum in the history of the USSR took place. One question was put to a vote: “Do you consider it necessary to preserve the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as a renewed federation of equal sovereign republics, in which the rights and freedoms of a person of any nationality will be fully guaranteed?” Almost 77 percent of those who voted said “yes” to the preservation of the USSR in an updated form. The authorities of Armenia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova and Estonia refused to hold the referendum on their territory. By that time, the legislative and executive bodies and institutions in these republics were already controlled by secessionist forces, which did not hide their intentions to leave the USSR.
The March 17 referendum at that time was the only convincing attempt to appeal to public opinion on the most important issue of the political life of a huge country. However, the results did not change anything — by December 8 of the same year, the leaders of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine decided to dissolve the USSR. The referendum itself became the beginning of the end of a unique state — an experiment in the vast expanses of Eurasia. By that time, the republican elites were already ready to take power and wealth into their own hands; the events of August 1991 spurred this readiness — in Turkmenistan, where almost 100 percent of the population voted to preserve the USSR, on August 22, 1991, all enterprises were placed under republican control.
All the republics of the USSR met the new year in 1992 as newly independent states. For some of them, this status was a long-awaited event, for which they had fought. Others were, according to former Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan Apas Jumagulov, “thrown out of the union, cut off as an unnecessary part of the body.” Many economic ties broke off immediately, while others collapsed gradually; the rest survived and were even strengthened. In politics, everyone was left to their own problems. Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Tajikistan plunged into bloody political and interethnic conflicts during their first years of independence.
The path of the countries that emerged from the ruins of the USSR over the years was the road to gaining their own subjectivity in international politics. With great difficulty and despite all odds, Armenia and Moldova are coping with this task. The majority — Russia, Azerbaijan and all the countries of Central Asia — were able to solve the problem more or less successfully. Georgia and two Slavic republics — Belarus and Ukraine, were hanging in the “limbo” between external management and full-fledged statehood. The three Baltic republics quickly transferred their sovereignty to the European Union and NATO. In their independent development, they had to make, in fact, the only decision, which, moreover, was due to historical reasons and external circumstances. This decision was made and now the fate of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia cannot be perceived outside the context of Russia-West interaction.
For the rest, the direct link between success in creating their own statehood and the scale of interaction with the West (Europe and the United States) is quite obvious. This historical fact reveals a relationship between the ability of small and medium states to ensure their sovereignty and the interests of the great powers in their neighbourhood. Such powers were Russia and the European states, united into the European Union simultaneously with the collapse of the USSR. Also, an important role was played by the United States, which always sought to limit Russian opportunities and supported the newly independent states. At the same time, an attempt to choose in favour of closer relations with the West to the detriment of Russian interests in all cases, without exception, led to a very shaky statehood and the loss of territory.
The dramatic fate of Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine shows that the strong collective institutions of the West are capable of exerting a stabilising effect only on those states that directly became part of them.
In all other cases, no matter how complete absorption becomes possible, an orientation towards these institutions only leads to the use of small countries in a diplomatic game with bigger partners.
Therefore, the experience of the development of such major players as Azerbaijan or Uzbekistan is indicative — they were able to confidently form their own statehood, without finding themselves in a situation of choosing between conflicting poles of power. Their main resource turned out to be a rather fair demographic situation. But not only this — the population of Ukraine has also been and remains large by European standards. Kazakhstan is a success by this indicator; equal to the average European country or small Asian states.
Therefore, the ability of most of the countries of the former USSR to build relatively independent and stable statehood played no less important role. In many ways, this ability was established during the years of the Soviet Union’s existence. Founded on December 30, 1922, it was not just a continuation of the Russian Empire, which had collapsed five years earlier. Its main distinguishing feature was its unique model of state administration, based on the full power of one political party. As long as the unique position of the Communist Party remained in the Soviet state, the experiment could exist. With the abolition of Article 6 of the Constitution of the USSR, its days were numbered regardless of the desire of the population or the real readiness of the elites to take full responsibility for what was happening.
The USSR model of state structure, new by historical standards, created the conditions for a rather unique experiment, within the framework of which union republics were created, none of which, except for Russia, Georgia and Armenia, had the experience of centralised state administration within the territorial boundaries that they acquired within the framework of the USSR. At least the peoples inhabiting them can boast of a significant experience of statehood as such. Thus, most of the countries of Central Asia trace their ancestry back to great empires or urban civilizations of past centuries.
The Baltic republics were always on the sidelines — their independent statehood arose during the collapse of the Russian Empire and existed as such for almost 20 years before being incorporated into the USSR in 1940. Russia has returned to its historical state of being a major European power or empire of the 19th century, with the development of a multinational and multi-faith society central to its development objectives. In fact, Russia has not lost anything really necessary for its survival in international politics.
The peculiar structure of the USSR formalised the situation in which the former outskirts of the Russian Empire ceased to be part of the Russian state, although Moscow served as the centre of the union. Russia among them was in the most ambiguous position — it did not have its own most important institutions of Soviet statehood — the party organisation and the republican State Security Committee. Russian nationalism was subjected to the most severe and consistent persecution by the Soviet authorities.
The vast majority of republics within the USSR, for the first time, received the experience of building their own state and their national elite.
The backbone of the ruling class was the Soviet and party nomenklatura, which all took power, with few exceptions, after 1991. Even in Tajikistan, where the first years of independence were overshadowed by the civil war, it was this part of society that was eventually able to establish control over the situation. In other Central Asian countries, elites formed on the basis of the state tradition established during the Soviet era, gradually supplemented by representatives of a new generation that grew professionally after the collapse of the USSR.
Thirty years is a sufficient period to assess the results of the independent development of the countries that emerged from the republics of the former USSR. Now the period of their growing up can be considered complete; ahead is an independent future. Russia is increasingly feeling independent and not particularly obligated to its neighbours. In any event, Moscow will continue to follow a moral imperative of responsibility for maintaining peace and strictly ensure that its neighbours correlate their actions with Russian security interests.
From our partner RIAC
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