The Covid-19 pandemic has made people all over the world very aware, even slightly frightened. Our everyday lives, ones we lived before the virus affected ourselves, our relatives and friends, will not return to normal any time soon. A lot of people saw their work schedules completely change, with many people being forced to work from home, and this was not easy for everyone. People are tired, but the current situation in Europe, where the number of new cases is on the rise once again, casts doubt on whether we will ever return to the lives we lived before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many people place their hopes on the invention of a vaccine, which was the solution against influenza, but it is impossible to develop a safe vaccine in such a short amount of time even if we employ the smartest people and the most powerful computers in the world. But there is one country that has already done it: no, it’s not China where the virus emerged, but instead Russia. An increasing number of my acquaintances believe that we should allow Moscow to supply the world with its vaccine, and I believe such an opinion is the consequence of the lack of critical thinking. In this article I will argue why the Americans and everyone else around the globe should pay less attention to Putin’s propaganda mouthpieces Russia Today, Sputnik and others.
Has Moscow been able to prove that the vaccine is effective? Have Russian doctors already been vaccinated? What about Russian politicians and diplomats? There is a single answer to these three questions – no! First, the research data has not been submitted to the World Health Organization. Second, information has emerged that Russian doctors will not receive additional payment for working under Covid-19 circumstances if they refuse to become guinea pigs for the new vaccine. Third, media outlets report that politicians and diplomats have also contracted the virus. And there’s also the fact that current clinical trials do not adhere to any global standards.
Russia’s aggressive pressure towards the development of a vaccine has more to do with political prestige, rather than actual care for the health of Russians and other people around the world. Moscow’s main goal is to be the first to develop such a vaccine, regardless of the costs or consequences.
To understand this, we must look back at history to see how the Kremlin’s tzar Putin diverts attention from domestic problems in order to keep the public under control.
Putin began his political career when Boris Yeltsin was in power, and everyone knew how much Yeltsin liked to drink. He was drunk even when meeting Bill Clinton. During those times, Russian oligarchs, the mafia and intelligence services had a large influence over political processes. The regular working class was left completely ignored and had to fight for themselves against the harsh reality.
In the spring of 2000, Vladimir Putin became the president of Russia. The year before he was the director of the FSB, and six months before becoming president Yeltsin appointed him as prime minister. This was a time when the Russian public had been demoralized by the 1998 financial crisis because it hadn’t yet recovered from the collapse of the USSR, so the people didn’t believe Yeltsin or the State Duma. But it was necessary to mobilize the public before the upcoming presidential election. A series of explosions hit apartment buildings Moscow, and dozens of people lost their lives. It was afterwards revealed that there should have been one more explosion near the Russian capital, but it didn’t happen. The government announced that Islamist extremists from the North Caucasus, i.e. the Chechen Republic, were to blame for these acts of terrorism. This triggered the Second Chechen War, and many Russian experts believe that this was the exact moment when Putin’s era in modern Russia began.
Putin’s first term was characterized – alongside the Chechen war and the Kursk submarine disaster – as the period of concentrating power by acknowledging his allies and enemies. His presidency was made successful largely by the increase in oil prices in early 2000, which allowed the Russian people to catch their breath. We can also call this the period when Russia regained its economic independence.
In order to fully concentrate power in his hands before the 2004 election, Putin had to deal with the influential Russian oligarchs. This resulted in the imprisonment of Russia’s wealthiest man Mikhail Khodorkovsky (owner of the oil company Yukos), and the Russian people were told that oligarchs are frauds who are robbing the country.
Putin served his second term during a time when energy prices were very high, and the state considerably increased spending on different spheres. A part of the society continued enjoying their oil dollars, while the others continued believing that everything is alright and that Russia is just rising from its knees, which was the narrative circulated by state-owned propaganda media outlets. However, the so-called “nation of victors” required a small military victory as well, and this resulted in the Russo-Georgian War. I will add that this wasn’t considered Putin’s “victory” because due to constitutional restrictions Dmitry Medvedev – his closest ally all the way back from the nineties – was elected president in May 2008.
The global economic crisis and Medvedev’s seemingly liberal stance towards the challenges of the 21st century made the society once again believe that the country is changing. In 2009, the Russian city of Skolkovo was presented as the Russian alternative to the Silicon Valley. In reality, this was just a poster used to fool the public to believe that Russia is as technologically advanced as the West. In addition, there were also active talks about restarting the relations between Moscow and Washington when Barrack Obama was the president of the US. Tzar Putin, who was not far away but now slightly in the shadows, became increasingly envious of Medvedev’s growing popularity and the fact that the previously established vertical of power is being gradually torn apart. Therefore, it was decided that the master must return to the Kremlin.
This wasn’t an easy task because the only way to make it happen was with mass electoral fraud. People online, media outlets and opposition candidates considered the election illegitimate, as numerous violations had been identified at polling stations. In late 2011, mass opposition protests against the fraudulent election were brutally suppressed. The same happened with the protests of May 2012 during the inauguration of Vladimir Putin.
Putin’s first two years of presidency after returning were quite complicated – the public was unhappy with him, despite mass information campaigns telling about the president’s fight against corrupt local governors and law enforcement officers. Then approached the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, which were supposed to be the main event for everyone around the globe to see that Russia is a superpower capable of organizing an exceptional sporting event. But this was entirely overshadowed by the developments in Ukraine – demonstrations and the violent suppression of peaceful protests. The Kremlin was forced to react, and thus began the campaign of “little green men” in Crimea which was later annexed. Afterwards, Russia invaded Eastern Ukraine, which is now governed by a Kremlin-backed separatist regime. Russian propaganda outlets tirelessly circulated narratives that Ukraine is being overrun by a fascist regime backed by the West, that the return of Crimea to Russia was “historic justice” and that there are no Russian soldiers in Eastern Ukraine. The war in Ukraine meant that there would be no restart in the relations between the West and Russia. The opposition had been quashed and the public mobilized for war because the West had imposed wide economic and political sanctions against Putin’s regime (Russia was excluded from the G8). This is when economic downturn began, and the public was being prepared for any possible outcome. However, the accumulated oil dollars saved the regime from collapse.
The Ukraine issue gradually faded into the background, and in order to entice the appetite of the public Putin had to involve himself in other shady dealings. This was done by engaging in the battle against ISIS and supporting the friendly Assad regime in Syria. Moscow didn’t want to lose its only naval base in the Mediterranean because it was of strategic importance. Currently, Putin’s henchmen are actively engaged in talks with different tribal groups in “Arab spring” countries in order to strengthen Russia’s influence in North Africa and the Middle East.
Alongside all the foreign policy matters, i.e. interfering in the US presidential election which is a topic for an entire article, domestically Russia was preparing for the next presidential election and drawing up plans for Putin to remain in charge. The 2018 Russian presidential election can be considered as another turning point in the history of modern Russia – member of non-systemic opposition Aleksey Navalny at the beginning was allowed to participate in the election, however during the campaign prosecutors opened case and he was switched of rally. The following years saw the implementation of strict regulations that now allow the government to turn against independent journalists (by accusing them of treason), sexual minorities, etc.
A grandiose parade was scheduled to be held in 2020 in honor of the 75th anniversary of the Victory Day, but Covid-19 brought its own corrections – the 9 May farce in the Red Square didn’t take place. This was unacceptable for a regime that has built its ideology around the victory in World War II, therefore Putin decided to participate in the global race to develop a Covid-19 vaccine. The Russian public was mobilized to vote for the constitutional amendments that would grant Putin the rights to remain president until at least 2036. Despite the ongoing pandemic, Putin’s political spin doctors were able to fix the vote in his favor. The non-systemic opposition wasn’t happy with the results – the most prominent protests against the regime’s impunity can be seen in Khabarovsk, where they have been ongoing already since July. Even mass arrests of people and leaders of non-systemic opposition groups have not been able to suppress them.
In order to prove to the Russian people that the regime is capable of not only military achievements, but also scientific ones, Russian propaganda media outlets announced on 11 August that Russian scientists have successfully developed a vaccine against Covid-19 and that this vaccine has already been registered. Putin himself said that the third phase of trials of the vaccine will begin on 12 August. In order to comfort the public, Putin revealed that one of his daughters has already been vaccinated. I must add that in Russia the leader’s family is a taboo topic and no one even knows how Putin’s daughters look – it is known that one of them is linked with the medical sphere, while the other is an entrepreneur. The vaccine has been named Sputnik V, which makes it seem like just another fake news article published in either Sputniknews or RT. Only a handful of countries have expressed interest in the Russian vaccine, and it just happens that these countries share the same governing style as Russia. Even Beijing has not commented on Moscow’s achievements because China is well aware that this is just another tool in the information war aimed at increasing Russia’s dominance. Many Russian doctors and medical workers refused to become guinea pigs for the vaccine. These people are professionals and are well aware of the present system, therefore they know that the regime couldn’t have been able to develop a vaccine in such a short amount of time.
Now, upon critically reviewing everything that I wrote along with the way Putin is attempting to maintain control over the large country for 20 years now, it becomes more than evident that the “vaccine” developed by Russia is nothing more than a bluff. There is no scientific evidence, the formula of the vaccine is not being provided and the trials go against any standards prescribed by the World Health Organization. The only thing we have is information published by Russian media outlets.
*Brain Marchand is an American political commentator and studied political science at Cambridge University