Assistant Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Bruce Aylward during the press conference held on 11 January informed that vaccination against COVID-19 has already started in over 40 countries around the world. At this stage citizens of Israel got the vaccine first, where over 1.5 million people got the vaccine within several days’ time, which makes 16 percent of all citizens of the country. This was because Israel established mobile places where people can arrive in cars for getting a vaccine.
In public space of Lithuania, the applied vaccination procedure is in the progress already, we have several cases of dishonest behaviour. We can be relieved, hoping that slower or faster specific steps will follow inevitably in the information context.
However, we should not forget that vaccination diplomacy is going step by step with the progress of vaccination and in the conditions of the struggle of geopolitical interest twists and turns that sometimes turn into manipulations are inevitable. The Minister of Foreign Affairs Gabrielius Landsbergis in his interview to the state public radio on 12 January suggested not to discuss the possibility of negotiation of our country individually regarding coronavirus vaccines for a reason, following the example of Israel.
According to the Minister, if Lithuania starts independent negotiations, Lithuania would be removed from the joint procurement of the European Commission (EC), the number of the vaccine we want to purchase and diplomatic possibilities to negotiate with manufacturers would make us find ourselves at the bottom of the list. As if Lithuania starts negotiating individually. Previous agreements (we must understand, the EC) would be deprived of a safe peace provided by the unity of the EU. Lithuania is buying coronavirus vaccines together with other states of the European Union (EU) from the companies such as Moderna, AstraZeneca, Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, Sanofi and GSK, BioNTech, Pfizer and CureVac.
Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Lithuania Živilė Simonaitytė indicated that political structures have best possibilities in competition for vaccines and told that it is too early to talk about a possibility of private businesses. At this stage states are fighting in the world. In this situation COVID-19 vaccine is becoming a geopolitical and event propaganda factor, the precedents of which can be already seen in the countries close to Lithuania.
Prime Minister of Ukraine Denys Shmyhal on 8 January addressed the EC with an application to help purchasing the coronavirus vaccine to Ukraine, because particularly big demand for the vaccine in the world and purchase conditions makes his country get into a dishonest (weaker) position compared with the position of the EU.
It is probable that the letter of the Prime Minister was necessary for the aggressive marketing campaign of the Russian vaccine Sputnik V that has already started. On 5 January the opposition Pro-Kremlin party of Ukraine the Opposition Platform–For Life announced that it initiated collection of signatures regarding approval of Sputnik V. Previously, President of the political council of the party, godfather of the President of Russia Vladimir Putin’s daughter Viktor Medvedchuk informed that the company from Kharkov (the second largest city in Ukraine in the east of the country) Biolek addressed the Ministry of Health regarding registration of Sputnik V in Ukraine. Viktor Medvedchuk called a potential negative reply as a crime against humanity.
Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Health of Ukraine and Chief sanitary doctor of the country Viktor Liashko calls rumours about registration of the Russian anti-coronavirus product untrue. According to him, the vaccines that have successfully passed all three stages of tests only will be registered (Russians registered and promote Sputnik V not even waiting for the end of the third stage). The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba called the Russian vaccine a hybrid weapon of Moscow against Kiev.
According to the daily The New York Times (11 January), the absence of supply of the American vaccine (the President Donald Trump banned supply of the vaccine abroad until the needs of the United States are satisfied), twists and turns in the politics of Europe and resistance against Sputnik V made Ukraine the centre of geopolitical competition for COVID-19 vaccine.
Although negotiations regarding western vaccines still continue, there are no warranties that Ukraine will get it by the end of 2021. Under such circumstances Russian propagandists demonstrate their activity and declare as if western allies leave Ukraine alone at these hard times, Pro-Russian TV channels of Ukraine (unfortunately, there are plenty of them – A.S.) blame the President Volodymyr Zelensky for condemnation of his citizens to death. Ukrainians are urged to use the Russian vaccine.
Kiev, that has doubts in reliability of Sputnik V, in December started negotiations with manufacturers of the Chinese vaccine (the company Sinovac Biotech), however they still have no news about their reliability. However, according to the American daily, an agreement regarding supply of 1.9 million doses of Sinovac Biotech vaccines to Ukraine can be called a geopolitical victory of China.
Minister of Health of Ukraine Maksym Stepanov in his interview to The New York Times told that the issue of vaccines has been politicised; Russia as always uses it in a hybrid war as a weapon of information. In the opinion of the former Deputy Minister of Health Oleksandr Linchevskiy, the political class of Russia seeks Ukraine to get the vaccine from other places (not Russia) as late as possible and could fill in the “lack” of it with its own.
In other words, a diplomatic-geopolitical struggle for vaccine in Ukraine is taking a serious path. Therefore, the address of thirteen member states of the EU to the EC on 6 January is a nice gesture, urging to help the states of the Eastern Partnership Programme of the EU to be supplied with vaccines. The address was signed by Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Sweden. Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, and Belarus are members of the Partnership.
The flow of disinformation and propaganda from the east addressed to our country does not stop – in December 320 cases were identified in the information environment of Lithuania that had negative impact on features of information activities (in November 308 cases of disinformation were identified). After attention of the Internet trolls of the Kremlin to the Forces of Lithuania, cooperation of the county with NATO, 13 January, it is logical to expect that the topic of coronavirus will be remembered, moreover, this topic is not new to them, they already have experience.
One year ago, after several cyber-attacks, fake news was announced as if a soldier of the USA, located in Lithuania was infected with coronavirus. The fake news about the meeting of State Defence Council that was actually held on 13 January was spread to the Ministry of Defence of Lithuania, NATO headquarters, other institutions, media of Lithuania as if the resolution was passed to continue Defender Europe 2020 despite the danger of COVID-19 pandemic via imitated letters of the employer of the Lithuanian forces. Another fakes news was that Lithuania has decided not to provide information to the media on movement of the American military forces in order to avoid panic.
In the middle of September Google informed that just during the second quarter of 2020 it removed 78 YouTube channels related to Russia and three blogs in Russian and English about fighting COVID-19 in the United States, EU, a particular attention was given to Lithuania and Latvia.
On 13 August the TV channel CBC News informed about fake news spread in eastern and western Europe as if military officers from the Canadian tactical battle group were massively infected with COVID-19 in Adazi military polygon in Latvia. The Chief of the group colonel Eric Laforest called this a lie; the command of Latvia and NATO had to deny this ‘fact’ urgently.
We can and have to expect the topic of cyber-attacks, for instance, possibilities to choose vaccines, because Russia will manipulate in any topic. Head of the Lithuanian delegation in the European Parliament (EP) Andrius Kubilius with members of the EP and former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland Witold Waszczykowski in April of the last year addressed Head of the EC for a reason and expressed their concern about pressure of the Kremlin on the West to lift sanctions by taking the advantage of the COVID-19 situation after President of Russia Vladimir Putin ‘got worried’ about lifting sanctions to the states during a virtual summit of G-20 leaders held on 26 March. As if it is necessary to consolidate efforts for fighting the coronavirus.
The race for the vaccine has already started, anyway. Director-General of WHO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told during the press conference held on 8 January that the wealthiest 42 countries have already bought the biggest portion of the registered coronavirus vaccines. The EU has ordered vaccines for 150 million people so far, that will be supplied during all year 2021. It is yet not clear how many vaccines in particular were received by a specific state of the Community (for instance, it is indicated that by 11 January Czech Republic received around 30 thousand of vaccines). It was promised that after logistical issues are solved, new doses to citizens of the EU will be supplied every week. Most states of the EU have published their vaccination schedules. A resolution about countries of the Eastern partnership has not been adopted yet. To tell the truth, we still have plenty of open questions.
Surely, scope of purchasing COVID-19 vaccine in Lithuania and threats related to it (also disinformation) maybe are not considered as ‘fatal’, however the algorithm is quite obvious and has been ‘verified’ many times, thus we can expect spreading confusion and getting on nerves.