BERLIN. It is vaccine diplomacy: yesterday Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and Vladimir Putin had an important conference call, in which delicate passages were not lacking even on extremely controversial issues. But openings emerged from the videophone that hadn’t been seen for some time. So much so that the Russian president said he was willing “to re-establish normal relations with the EU”.
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The dossier that is most favoring a rapprochement between Europe and Russia is the Sputnik vaccine. According to the Kremlin, the three would have talked about joint production of the Russian vaccine and distribution, but a German government source underlines that “obviously we will wait for the authorization of the EMA”. Merkel’s spokesperson, Steffen Seibert, pointed out that there will be no preferential lanes for Sputnik: “the examination will take place according to the same rules that apply to other vaccines“.
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And at the moment, there is no shortage of doubts about Sputnik, amidst incomplete data and the skepticism of Europeans about the possibility that Russia will be able to fulfill the promises made to over fifty countries. In April, EMA experts are expected in Russia to examine both the clinical examinations and the production sites of Sputnik. And from this summer the vaccine should also be produced in Italy and Germany. But the Europeans fear a deja vu of the bad experiences made with other pharmaceutical companies, which have failed to respect the agreements on supplies, as Mario Draghi recently pointed out, reselling the same doses “two or three times”.
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Difficult not to interpret the call even with a signal in the direction of Washington. Germany and France cannot give up a relationship with Russia, especially in a time of tug-of-war with pharmaceutical companies over supplies and slow-motion vaccine campaigns. It is no coincidence that the response to Joe Biden, who considers Russia and China as declared adversaries, has always been lukewarm, on the part of Merkel and Macron, since the Munich Conference in mid-February. Moreover, Merkel has self-inflicted a new problem on vaccines, yesterday announcing the blockade of AstraZeneca for the under 60s.
However, the two did not fail to touch on thorny topics with Putin. First of all, the stalemate in Ukraine. Merkel and Macron repeated the eternal mantra of the need to implement the Minsk 2 accords. Most importantly, according to a note from the chancellery, the two also insisted on restoring “the Normandy format” to move the negotiations forward, including Ukraine in the dialogues. In recent days, the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, had made it known that Moscow is preparing the three-way peace talks, with Merkel and Macron but without Kiev. And the spokesman for the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Oleg Nikolenko, reacted very quickly by stressing that “nothing can be decided on Ukraine without Ukraine”. From yesterday’s phone call with Putin it is clear that France and Germany support Kiev’s request for a return to the complete “Normandy format”.
In the video call with Moscow, the German chancellor and the French president also expressed their wish for “a process of inclusive dialogue and free elections” in Belarus. But Putin, according to a note from the Kremlin, would have replied hard-nosed that “any interference in the affairs of a sovereign state is unacceptable”.
On another node that is dividing Moscow from Europe, the detention of Alexei Navalnyj in a harsh prison, Putin allegedly answered Merkel and Macron’s questions about the “objective circumstances of the case”, for which Moscow continues to keep the leader behind bars of the opposition. The two European leaders would have referred to the need for Russia to respect the European Convention on Human Rights in the treatment of the activist detained on the basis of farce accusations. Navalny was rescued and housed in Germany for months last summer after poisoning with the nerve agent Novichok. On his return to Russia he was immediately arrested. The EU has decided on sanctions against Moscow for what it considers illegal action.
In the mini-summit, the three would also have touched on the difficult Syria and Libya dossiers. Merkel and Macron, according to reports from the Chancellery, raised the question “of the disastrous humanitarian conditions” in Libya and demanded from Russia, which has controlled large areas of the country for years, to “continue to guarantee aid to the suffering population and to facilitate work of the Constitution Committee “.
On one point, Merkel, Macron and Putin have registered a total convergence with Putin. The three leaders unanimously expressed their hope that a new agreement on the Iranian nuclear dossier will proceed. And here too, the gaze is turned beyond the Atlantic Ocean, to Joe Biden’s America.