Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Balkan countries look to China, Russia for blows

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As resentment mounts in the EU over delays in rolling out its coronavirus vaccination, Serbia has accelerated to reach mainland Europe highest per capita inoculation rate.

But the Balkan state – candidate for membership in the bloc – does not use jabs made in the West. Serbia instead, turned to China’s Sinopharm, becoming the first European country to use the company’s photos and its neighbors should follow Belgrade’s lead.

“The world has hit an iceberg, like the Titanic, and the rich and the rich save only themselves and their loved ones,” Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said last week, justifying his decision to buy jabs Chinese and Russian while negotiating contracts for the EU. -approved.

“We are drowning with the Titanic. It may not be their intention, but it is not particularly important to them. “

Although the EU has provided 70 million euros to the six aspiring members of the Balkans for the purchase of vaccines, problems in Europe means that four of them have not yet received vaccines months after the start of inoculation in other countries. Frustrated, some are now looking east to Russia and China for scarce supplies.

People line up to receive the Chinese-made Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine in Belgrade, Serbia © Andrej Isakovic / AFP / Getty

Some officials warn that it could also damage the EU’s credibility in the region. “Someone could use the situation and say that in times of trouble, it is China and Russia that help, while Western governments fail,” said an official from North Macedonia.

Unlike most regional leaders, Serbia’s strongman pursued close relations with Beijing and Moscow in tandem with its EU accession process, which displeased Brussels and Washington.

Serbia, a country of 7 million people, has already received more than a million doses, and Mr Vucic said on Saturday another million would arrive before the start of March.

Belgrade’s approach is gaining ground among other countries in the region that had placed their trust in the EU’s distribution plan.

Neighboring Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as NATO allies North Macedonia and Montenegro, have still not received a single dose. Officials in Skopje and Podgorica announced last week that they would purchase vaccines from Russia and China.

“We wanted to go get Western vaccines to show what we belong to as a country, and initially ruled out the possibility of negotiating with the Russians and the Chinese,” the North Macedonian official told the Financial Times.

But he said his government was finding it increasingly difficult to justify the delays. “Since there are other countries in Europe like Hungary which obtain [the Sinopharm vaccine], it would be difficult to explain to people why we are waiting for Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca, ”he said, referring to three companies making vaccines approved by the EU.

Montenegro’s Health Minister Jelena Borovinic Bojovic said that in addition to a recently signed contract for 150,000 Chinese vaccinations, she would seek 50,000 doses of Sputnik vaccine. The Bosnian government announced in mid-January that it would start negotiations with Moscow, Beijing and Pfizer. The two countries were awaiting supplies promised by Covax, the multilateral alliance for vaccines, which have not yet arrived.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama: “ It’s not that they [the EU] are in the best shape and they have their backs to us. This is quite a mess. . . The harm they do to each other is incredible ”© Hektor Pustina / AP

The EU had exempted the Balkans from new export ban of vaccines to third countries. But the bloc’s inability to send even symbolic doses to its future members disappointed them, according to Adi Cerimagic, an analyst at the European Stability Initiative, a think tank.

“They weren’t expecting to receive it at the same time as the EU member states, but they expected some kind of clear timetable, clear arrivals, and now they feel like they are being abandoned” , did he declare.

In AlbaniaHowever, historical mistrust of China and Russia outweighs disappointment in Europe. Albania emerged thirty years ago from one of the most repressive dictatorships in Europe, which had been supported for many years by Beijing. Prime Minister Edi Rama has said he will avoid procuring Russian or Chinese blows due to continued mistrust.

But Rama said he was disappointed that his country – which joined NATO in 2009 – has not received even symbolic doses through EU mechanisms. Albania plans to start vaccinating health workers next week with a batch of 970 BioNTech / Pfizer jabs donated by an anonymous European country.

“Regarding the vaccine, I was very surprised,” he told FT in an interview. “It’s not that they [the EU] are in the best shape and they have their backs to us. This is quite a mess. . . The harm they do to themselves is incredible. ”

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