“Russia is pursuing an active aggressive policy, even with vaccines,” said Alexander Linchevsky, a former deputy health minister. “It is in Russia’s political interest for Ukraine to get the vaccines from elsewhere as late as possible,” because it wants to fill the gap with its own vaccine.
Ukraine, with a population of 42 million, plans to receive eight million doses of vaccines under the Covax program, which supplies low- and middle-income countries that would not otherwise be able to access vaccines. But these doses should arrive at least by March. Negotiations for Western shipments continue later in the year, Mr Stepanov said.
Prior to President Trump’s executive order banning vaccine exports from the United States, Ukraine was in talks with Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to speed up supplies. Although negotiations are ongoing, delivery deadlines are being pushed back.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky can barely contain his outrage that his country is winding its way far back in the vaccine queue, despite its precarious geopolitical position.
Russia has been supporting the separatist war in Ukraine’s two eastern provinces for six years as it tries to drive a wedge between Kiev and its Western allies. Vaccine policy plays into the hands of the Kremlin.
“We have to be like political acrobats to be able to get on the priority list for vaccines,” Mr Zelenski said in an interview last month. The US export ban, he said, “puts Ukraine at the bottom of the line.” In a statement to Ukrainians at the end of the year, Mr Zelensky wrote bitterly that, unfortunately, the “richest” countries would have vaccines first.
In late December, Ukraine accelerated negotiations with Chinese supplier Sinovac Biotech, announcing on New Year’s Eve an order for 1.9 million doses for delivery in early February. That is hardly enough, but it is still a geopolitical victory for China, providing some relief when Western countries look the other way.