Russia’s Sputnik diplomacy

11.05.2021

Развитые страны Запада сегодня озабочены своими внутренними кампаниями по вакцинации населения. Они пытаются привить как можно больше граждан своих государств. Несмотря на то, что в России вакцинация не ведётся столь же активно (две дозы получили пока лишь 6% населения), она стала важным дипломатическим инструментом в отношениях с развивающимися странами. Спутник V выглядит очень успешным проектом, так как у него практически не выявлено никаких негативных последствий. Валентина Ларс рассказывает, как Россия использует вакцину для распространения своего влияния

mid the West’s scramble for vaccines, a trickle of news flies under the radar. Argentina becomes the first country in South America to produce Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. The first shipment of Sputnik V is promised to Peru by May. Some 11,000 Sputnik V doses reach North Macedonia, while Tunisia begins administering 30,000 doses, and 1.7 million more are promised to Bolivia by May. The African Union confirms it has received an offer of 300 million doses from Russia, which has already signed agreements to produce tens of millions of doses in China, Brazil, Iran and Serbia.

While we weren’t looking, Russia’s Sputnik V became the cornerstone of pandemic response for the developing world.

The race for influence

The vaccine offers a unique chance to launder Russia’s reputation. But the Sputnik V jab is about more than image. It’s a calculated campaign to increase the Kremlin’s power and influence through a global scientific, diplomatic, and media influence operation.

Russian capabilities align elegantly with the world’s pandemic needs. As developing countries tried and failed to secure enough vaccine supplies through Western mechanisms, headlines worldwide hail Russia as the partner that really comes through when it counts.

Sputnik V is the image of Russia the Kremlin wants to project. Far from the authoritarian, bellicose, annexationist Moscow that poisons its domestic political opponents and interferes in its rivals’ elections, Sputnik V casts Russia in the role of scientific superpower and pandemic saviour.

Flexing the media-muscle

Russia’s official mouthpieces — Russia Today, Sputnik Radio, and the TASS news agency —  minutely cover each new country, from Laos to Panama, that approves Sputnik V for use, while the Russian Direct Investment Fund, the Kremlin agency that bankrolled Sputnik V’s development, trumpets Russia’s achievement not just in finding a vaccine first, but also in making it widely available.

Sputnik V’s Twitter feed (because of course Sputnik V has its own Twitter feed) pumps out messages once or twice an hour — ‘A planeload of vaccines lands in Armenia!’ — or retweets good news from partner countries, such as this one, from the Mexican Health Ministry, which claims that Sputnik V is the only vaccine with a 0 per cent chance of producing serious adverse side effects.

And Russia’s storied bot armies are on the march on the vaccine’s behalf. In December 2020, an investigation in The Daily Beast found that a Russian state-linked content farm known as Caliwax was behind Why Africa should focus on Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, a viral WhatsApp chain that spread far and wide through Ghana and Nigeria. Meanwhile, sources that the State Department’s Global Engagement Centre describes as ‘guided’ by Russian state intelligence have been peddling between two and three pieces a day hyping the arrival of Sputnik V in locations around the world.

What Russia can no longer achieve with its declining military strength, Flemming Splidsboel Hansen at the Danish Institute for International Studies writes, it now seeks through cognitive and digital means.

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