Covid vaccine diplomacy is a dilemma for overseas embassies in Russia

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Sooner or later within the coming months, a diplomatic cargo not like some other will arrive on the British embassy in Moscow.

As a substitute of official paperwork, categorized messages or, say, Branston Pickle, it’ll include scores of Covid-19 vaccine doses acquired by the UK authorities, able to be injected into embassy employees and their households.

That’s not as a result of there’s a scarcity of vaccines in Russia. Sputnik V, a state-developed jab that final summer time was the primary authorised anyplace on the earth, is being administered to all who need it. Sluggish demand means Moscow’s clinics are well-stocked; ready occasions are measured in minutes, not weeks.

However each the British and US embassies in Moscow are as a substitute counting on airlifts of domestically authorised vaccines — which should be administered on embassy territory as their use isn’t authorized in Russia — officers briefed on the plans instructed the Monetary Instances.

To Sputnik or to not Sputnik has change into a thorny challenge for diplomats in Moscow, particularly for the reason that jab — initially mocked within the west as a harmful, quickly authorised public relations stunt — is now seen by worldwide scientists as one of the world’s most effective.

Russia’s overseas affairs ministry has supplied photographs to all accredited diplomats within the nation — a tempting proposition for a lot of civil servants who must wait months and even years in the event that they have been again house.

Sputnik V has been a soft-power gold mine for the Kremlin. As relations with the EU and US have soured over the previous six months as a result of persecution of opposition activist Alexei Navalny, it has aggressively marketed the vaccine to non-western international locations. It has pitched Sputnik as the choice to jabs developed by profit-hungry international pharmaceutical firms prioritising richer nations.

That a few of these richer nations, akin to Hungary and Slovakia, are themselves now turning to Russia for emergency provides of Sputnik to offset sluggish provides of western vaccines is even higher information for the Kremlin. Vaccinating their diplomats makes for a pleasant headline, too — because the Italian ambassador to Moscow discovered to his discomfort final month.

For embassies representing one of many 45 overseas international locations whose medical authorities have authorised Sputnik V, akin to Mexico and Montenegro, encouraging employees members to get the two-dose Russian jab has been a no brainer. It has additionally been widespread amongst overseas correspondents, myself included, eager to restart reporting journeys.

However different embassies, akin to these representing the UK, the US and most EU members, are caught between wanting to guard employees in a rustic with reportedly the world’s third-highest coronavirus death tally.

Diplomats working within the Moscow embassies of Bulgaria, Switzerland, Greece, Slovakia and Spain have been vaccinated with Sputnik V, spokespeople instructed the FT. Many others, together with the EU’s everlasting illustration, stated their diplomats might select the place, and with what jab, to be vaccinated.

The British and US selections to go in-house isn’t with out precedent, in keeping with officers from each international locations. British diplomats are given a UK flu jab every winter, whereas the US embassy offers US-approved vaccinations for younger kids dwelling with their diplomat dad and mom.

“[US] Ambassador Sullivan thanks [Russia’s foreign ministry] for its provide of a vaccine, nevertheless wouldn’t need to take a Sputnik V dose meant for a Russian citizen,” embassy spokeswoman Rebecca Ross wrote on Twitter in December.

A British embassy official stated the International Workplace and defence ministry “are working collectively to make sure that all employees and dependants abroad, for whom Her Majesty’s Authorities has an obligation of care, are given entry to Covid-19 vaccinations in step with the UK nationwide programme’s precedence teams”.

Over breakfast with a Sputnik-vaccinated diplomat final week, we each remarked how lucky we felt to have already been vaccinated, whereas associates again house should have an extended wait forward. We’ve our antibodies — does it matter that Russia can declare the propaganda factors?

henry.foy@ft.com

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