The Geopolitics of Vaccine Diplomacy: EU Vaccine-Sharing with EaP Countries Bears ‘Strategic’ Value

Written by | Wednesday, January 13th, 2021

The EU should share corona-vaccines with former Soviet countries on its eastern flank, according to 13 foreign ministers from member states in the region. “We believe that our borders will not be safe if we do not extend our support to our immediate neighbours. Our Eastern Partners have on numerous occasions expressed their appreciation for the EU’s COVID-related assistance and pleaded for facilitated access to the vaccine,” the ministers said in a letter to the European Commission last week (6 January). Following this call by the EU ministers, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Tuesday (12 January) called on the bloc to help source coronavirus vaccines, as he tries to stave off criticism for failing to secure any western-made jabs.
In their joint letter, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Sweden urged the European Commission to“go beyond current initiatives” and support the Eastern Partnership countries in their efforts to obtain affordable and fair access to the COVID-19 vaccines. It should be noted that not a single country from “Old Europe”, including the EU founding members, joined this appeal. Launched in 2009 on the initiative of Poland and Sweden, the Eastern Partnership gets a boost only when EU countries from the East include it in their priorities while they exercise the Presidency. Signatories stressed that they ‘strongly support’ efforts by member states and the Commission to share the vaccines from the allocated contracts with the EU’s closest neighbours, such as the Western Balkans. “We believe that our borders will not be safe if we do not extend our support,” the letter stated.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian leader stressed that “it is extremely important to get the vaccines,” adding that Brussels needed to “pay extra attention” to post-Soviet nations seeking to develop closer ties with the EU – including Ukraine and Moldova – when it came to the “joint purchase and supply of vaccines”. His country of 40 million with a run-down health system had reported more than 1.1 million cases of coronavirus and 20,019 deaths by Tuesday (12 January). Some pro-Moscow politicians in Ukraine have lobbied for the introduction of the Russian-developed Sputnik V jab, but health officials in Kyiv have so far rejected the idea, with critics seeing the Russian vaccine as a geopolitical tool. Referring to Russia’s Sputnik V as a “propaganda tool”, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba reiterated that sentiment, stressing that “Russia doesn’t care about the health of Ukrainians.”

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