Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Opposition and pro-Russian forces will keep using the pandemic issue to discredit President V. Zelensky and the government

The issue of creating and further distributing the coronavirus vaccine between countries arose almost from the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the different level of development of states, and, consequently, the likelihood of obtaining a vaccine, ensuring all states of the world with equal access to vaccines worried the governments of many states, including the government of Ukraine. International organizations, in particular WHO, have directed efforts to create appropriate opportunities for vaccination of the population of all countries of the world. Without equal vaccine distribution, public-health experts warn, the pandemic could continue to live on residually for years, bringing with it even more death and further economic collapse. If the virus remains endemic anywhere, it will continue to pose a threat everywhere.[1] Therefore, back in early October the launch of a tender inviting all COVID-19 vaccine developers to submit a proposal for supply in 2021 was announced.

The tender was aimed at purchasing at least 2 billion doses of vaccines under the COVAX initiative to ensure equal and rapid access to a high-quality vaccines in the 186 countries that are participating in the initiative.[2] According to the Chief State Sanitary Doctor of Ukraine Viktor Liashko post on his Facebook, Ukraine got official approval from COVAX upon a request to receive a vaccine against COVID-19. «Now, in addition to the planned purchases for budgetary funds, Ukraine will receive more than 8 million doses of vaccine free of charge with 100% probability. Syringes for injections as well. We continue to work to ensure that refrigeration equipment (+2 … + 8) for vaccination points arrives as soon as possible. The Ministry of Health will involve the state enterprise «Ukrvaktsyna» and private companies in the logistics process (to provide access to equipment for ultra-cold storage, with a temperature regime of -60/-80 degrees Celsius)», Liashko wrote on his Facebook.

Since one person needs two doses of the vaccine, this amount is enough to vaccinate 4 million citizens. The need of search for other sources of supply is still on the agenda. However, besides the issue of ensuring public health, the topic of vaccination in Ukraine is actively used for political purposes, in order to activate electoral groups and put pressure on the current government. A particularly large-scale campaign was launched by the Opposition Platform - For Life (OPFL) party. The issue of purchasing Russian vaccines is constantly raised on Medvedchuk's channels (Channel 112, ZIK, NewsOne). It is emphasized that President Zelensky is ready to refuse to provide citizens with a vaccine for political reasons, although the head of the Russian Federation has already assured the leader of the «OPFL», Medvedchuk, of his readiness to supply the vaccine to Ukraine. Moreover, Viktor Medvedchuk said: «the Russian side agreed to pass to Ukraine both the technologies and raw materials such as a cell line, which is used to produce «Sputnik-V», while there is an enterprise in Ukraine that can quickly set up production of a vaccine not only for its own population, but also for export.[3] But the government, completely dependent on external governance, is guided by political expediency, endangering the lives of millions of Ukrainians». At the same time, Medvedchuk calls Russia's proposal a «good-neighborly action».[4]

This is not the first time the Russian Federation has resorted to such «good-neighborly actions» through the mediation of Medvedchuk. During the last presidential elections, the head of the «OPFL» visited Moscow and received a verbal agreement on reducing the gas price for Ukraine by 25%. Also, before the elections, Mr. Medvedchuk agreed to release some of the Ukrainian prisoners. Resorting to negotiations with the Kremlin, without having an appropriate mandate, and therefore, realizing the futility of such agreements, Medvedchuk has three main objectives: firstly, he rallies his own pro-Russian electorate, secondly, gives a rise to a criticism of Zelenskyy and, thirdly, weakens public confidence in the current government. Deputies from the party «OPFL» emphasize that the issue of a vaccine purchasing should not be politicized. However, the one-sided statements of the representatives of this party, aimed exclusively at criticizing the alternative options to «Sputnik-V», in particular, assistance within the framework of COVAX, testifies to the outright lobbying of Russian interests inside Ukraine by the «OPFL» party.

NSDC Secretary Oleksiy Danilov said on the air of Savik Shuster's Freedom of Speech program that the visit of Viktor Medvedchuk, the chairman of the political council of the «OPFL» party, to Moscow is directly related to the national security of Ukraine and is an information attack on the government. In response to the authorities' accusations of inaction in the fight against the pandemic, A. Danilov also recalled that on December 25, 2019, the NSDC Staff was informed about the threat of a pandemic and the importance of vaccination. «We have put on monitoring all companies in the world that are dealing with this issue. Today there are 227 ... and 13 companies are at the final stage of the development of these vaccines. According to operational data, there are 13 vaccines in the final stages of development, and only eight of them are really promising. And there is no Russian vaccine in this list. Not a single vaccine is officially registered anywhere, except for England, which has begun the vaccination process», the head of the Security Council said. The head of the NSDC also said that vaccination of the Ukrainian population is expected to start in the first quarter of 2021, and the issues of logistics, storage of the vaccine, the required number of medical personnel for vaccination have already been developed.[5] 

Volodymyr Zelenskyy also spoke about measures to combat the pandemic during a recent trip to Zaporizhzhya. The President said that the Ukrainian government is intensifying negotiations with global pharmaceutical companies and governments of other countries in order to accelerate the supply of high-quality, proven vaccine against COVID-19 to Ukraine. «Everything must be done to speed up the vaccine delivery process. I am talking to the leaders of the EU countries and not only the EU, so that we can accelerate the supply of high-quality, proven vaccines», Volodymyr Zelenskyy said. The President noted that negotiations are underway with India, Great Britain, France and many other countries.[6] China is named among the possible suppliers of the vaccine. Now the Ministry of Health, through the mediation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, is already negotiating with a Chinese manufacturing company.

Despite consistent steps aimed at creating conditions for the vaccination of the population and recovery from the crisis caused by the pandemic, President V. Zelenskyy will continue to be the object of criticism. It is worth noting that the coronavirus pandemic affected the stability of most countries in the world and became a catalyst for riots and demonstrations, even in the most developed countries. In such conditions, the main task of the authorities is to maintain internal political stability and gradually achieve sustainable economic development. After all, quarantine measures lead to a drop in the Ukrainian economy and living standards of a population, which weakens the position of the authorities. Taking advantage of this, opposition and pro-Russian forces will keep using the issue of the pandemic and related factors to discredit President V. Zelensky and the government.

Thus, reaching agreements on vaccine supplies is important not only for ensuring the proper functioning of Ukrainian society to gradually emerge from the crisis, but can also be a guarantee of maintaining the power of President Zelenskyy.