HomeWestern Balkans Anti-Disinformation HUB"Vaccine diplomacy" - How Prime Minister Rama used the Western Balkans to reprimand the EU

“Vaccine diplomacy” – How Prime Minister Rama used the Western Balkans to reprimand the EU

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, various countries have criticized the Union for blocking the supply of medical equipment to non-member countries. The prime minister of Albania also called the EU countries “rich egoists”, announcing China, Russia and Turkey as “the saviors of the Western Balkans during the pandemic”. Even though the statement aims to get an increased attention of the union towards the Western Balkans, experts explain to Faktoje that the consequences can create a “boomerang” effect for Albania.

Jona Plumbi

When he declared a state of emergency in Serbia on March 15, 2020 after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic called European solidarity non-existent and said that ” his hopes depended on China and its president “. Today, for the first time in history, the majority of citizens in Serbia – 44% of the population – spoke against integration into the European Union.

Two years after the Covid-19 pandemic, the Prime Minister of Albania, Edi Rama, chose to follow exactly this “line” in several European international forums such as Alpbach in Austria and the Peace Forum in France.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw the European Union behaving like a federation of selfish rich countries that, faced with the fear of death, shied away from the responsibility to share what they had in their hands, the vaccines! For a long time, we heard the refrain that you have to work with the Western Balkans, because otherwise China, Russia and Turkey will “play their role” in the region. But what happened? Without China, Russia and Turkey, we would not have been able to survive the first wave of the pandemic, as the vaccines were not coming from the European Union, they were coming from these three countries. said Rama at the Peace Forum in France, held in November 2022.

After an in-depth research by Faktoje, it turns out that the only blockade that the European Union made to the Western Balkans was the ban from March to April 2022 of the supply of protective equipment or medications to cope with Covid-19. As for the vaccination process – which, contrary to what Prime Minister Rama says, did not start during the first wave of the coronavirus, but almost a year later – it turns out that most of the countries of the Western Balkans received their first vaccines from Western countries (United States, Britain, Sweden, Italy, European Union) and not from China, Russia or Turkey.

Some facts about vaccination in the Western Balkans

The first wave of Covid-19 and vaccines

The first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic is considered between March 15 and June 30, 2020. During this period, no vaccine had yet been created, so during the first wave of Covid-19, no country had started vaccination. The first country to start this process was the United Kingdom and Israel , in December 2020, when the pandemic had brought a second wave of infections to the world.

How much did the EU spend on the Western Balkans?

3.3 billion euros was mobilized by the European Union to support the Western Balkans in coping with Covid-19 in April 2020. The Union also gave grants worth 70 million euros to the countries of the Western Balkans so that they could buy vaccines from member countries or from the vaccine distribution instrument called COVAX, as well as another 7 million euros to help the region in preparation for vaccination campaigns. The distribution of vaccines by COVAX started in all Western Balkan countries in March 2021. In October 2020, the Commission also proposed an investment plan of 9 billion euros to help the long-term recovery of the countries of the Western Balkans.

In total, the European Union spent over 12 billion euros to deal with the pandemic in the Western Balkans.

At the same time, the European Commission helped raise almost €16 billion, from May 2020, as part of the Global Response Package to the Coronavirus , the global initiative for universal access to tests, treatments and vaccines against the coronavirus.

Where did the vaccines come from?

Faktoje requested information from the Ministry of Health regarding the number of vaccines arriving in Albania according to the country of origin. As of the time of publishing this article, we have not yet received a response.

Despite this, until September 2022, the delegation of the European Union in Tirana and the Ministry of Health (with the response sent at that time) informed us that 1,078,310 Pfizer and Astra Zeneca vaccines have arrived in Albania from the EU and member states and about 1 million doses of vaccines from Turkey.

Meanwhile in September 2021, the Ministry of Health announced about 1 million doses of Sinocac and Coronavac vaccines, 60,000 doses of Sputnik from Russia and 50,000 doses of Covishield from India.

How the vaccination campaign started

The first among countries in the region to start the vaccination campaign was Serbiathe third in Europe to start this process after Britain and Switzerland – after receiving 4,875 doses from Pfizer and BioNTech on December 22, 2020. At that time, the Secretary of State at the Serbian Ministry of Health, Mirsad Djerlek, announced that another 20-21 thousand vaccines were expected from Pfizer and BioNTech , while Prime Minister Brnabic and President Vučić were in continuous intensive talks with Russia and China for their vaccines. The first Russian vaccines arrived in Belgrade on January 6, 2021, while the Chinese ones arrived on January 16, 2021.

Albania received the first doses of the vaccine from a country in the European Union, through which it started vaccinating doctors and law enforcement officers. On February 1, 2021, the government announced the arrival of vaccines from the contract with Pfizer. The first Russian vaccines arrived on March 22, 2021.

Macedonia received the first vaccines in February 2021, as a gift from Serbia, which was supplied by Pfizer/BioNTech. On March 7, another 3,000 doses of vaccines, purchased directly from Russia, arrived in Macedonia. The first COVAX vaccines , 24,000 doses, arrived in Skopje on March 28, 2021.

Montenegro was the country that started the population vaccination campaign later than all the Balkan countries. On February 18, 2021, Serbia gave Montenegro 2,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine, and on February 25, 2021, the country received another 5,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine, which came from Russia. On March 3, 2021, China donated 30,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccines to this country, after which Montenegro started the population vaccination campaign. At the end of March, the Montenegrin Ministry of Health announced the receipt of 24,000 doses of AstraZeneca, made possible by COVAX.

Bosnia and Herzegovina vaccinated health workers on February 12, 2021, with the Russian vaccine, Sputnik V, after Serbia donated 2,000 doses to Republika Srpska. The country also received 23,400 doses of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines from the United States on March 25, 2021.

Kosovo never approved the vaccines produced in China, or the one produced in Russia, Sputnik V. The only vaccines approved for use in Kosovo are Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca. At the same time, Kosovo was one of 92 low- and middle-income countries that received free vaccines from COVAX. It started its vaccination campaign thanks to the vaccines received from the European Union.

In conclusion, the only Western Balkan countries that were first supplied with vaccines from China, Russia and Turkey are Bosnia Herzegovina and Macedonia, via Serbia.

Reasons and potential consequences

The purpose of this statement, not the first of its kind, is some pressure on the European Union to support Albania more and faster in its integration. Above all, it aims to present the risk of a temptation to pave the way for the influence of countries such as China, Russia or Turkey in Albania ” – researcher Ermal Hasimja explains to Faktoje.

This is also supported by the international relations expert, Altin Gjeta, who identifies another goal in the Prime Minister’s statement. With these statements , Prime Minister Rama intends to build a narrative according to which the European Union has failed in the process of expansion with the Western Balkans. Thus, the burden of responsibility of the Albanian government for the stagnation in the path of integration is passed on the shoulders of the EU. ” – said Gjeta for Faktoje.

This is pure strategy, and the European Union is aware of it, according to experts who also recognize the risk it carries. It can also create the boomerang effect, i.e. a certain cooling or rejection reaction to an attitude that seems challenging. In the conditions where the attitude of Albanian citizens towards the EU and the countries in question is known, it is clear that it is a question of a critical and challenging attitude of the government and not of the general public . – emphasizes Ermal Hasimja. And if, according to him, Europe is very clear about the support that public opinion gives to integration, Altin Gjeta sees the danger that such statements “feed” a lack of trust in the Union.

Citizens’ perception

Based on the latest report of the Balkan Barometer, a survey conducted by the Regional Cooperation Council – an instrument of the Council of Europe for the integration of Southeast Europe – it results that the perception of Albanian citizens on the countries that provided aid during the pandemic period does not match that of the Prime Minister Rama.

According to the data , almost half of Albanians (46%) think that it was the European Union that helped the country’s economy the most during the pandemic, through financial or medical donations. Between China, Russia and Turkey, only the latter is perceived by Albanians (34%) as a country that helped Albania during the coronavirus.

This perception of Turkey, according to international relations expert Altin Gjeta, also comes thanks to the personal relationship between Prime Minister Rama and President Erdogan, as well as Turkey’s financial aid after the 2019 earthquake.

This, together with the aid that Turkey gave to Albania during the pandemic, have further strengthened the role of Ankara in political decision-making in Albania” , explains Gjata.

As for the two countries that received the first vaccines from China and Russia through Serbia – Macedonia and Bosnia Herzegovina – in the perception of the citizens, the aid came from other Balkan countries even though they recognize the European Union as the biggest contributor. Serbia is the only country in the region whose population perceives China (40%) as the country that helped them the most during the pandemic, followed by Russia (21%) and then the European Union (23%).

For experts, this is the result of China and Russia filling the gaps left by the EU during the beginning of the pandemic. “Vaccine diplomacy” has been an influential mechanism in the region at the beginning of the pandemic, when the amount of available vaccines was limited.” – explains Altin Gjata for Faktoje, emphasizing that the most obvious consequence of this is the growth of China’s role as a global actor in the region, especially in Serbia, and the perception that the EU left the region in the mud, when in fact it became the supplier main with vaccines during the pandemic.”

“Saviors” of the Balkans

Another effect of Prime Minister Rama’s recent rhetoric towards the European Union is the disinformative news in the regional media, which use his statement to “hit” the European Union.

The Albanian Prime Minister says that Russia, China and Turkey saved the Balkans during the pandemic “, writes the Russian media TASS in an article distributed by other media in Russia. Other media reported the statement differently. In some news of Russian portals, Rama is quoted as having said that ” Russia, China and Turkey were the saviors of the Balkans during the pandemic” .

For the Serbian media “Novosti”, the statement of the Albanian Prime Minister fully summarizes the behavior of the European Union as “a federation of rich egoists”. “Inflating” the Albanian Prime Minister’s statement, Novosti reports that according to him ” Without China, Turkey and Russia, we would not have survived the pandemic “.

He added that the EU was concerned about the influence of China, Russia and Turkey in the Balkans, but also that these three countries were the only ones that offered vaccines to the region. writes “Novosti ” on the statement of the Albanian Prime Minister.

Portals in North Macedonia took the statement one step further. According to one of them, Rama said that without China, Russia and Turkey, the Western Balkans would not have been able to end the pandemic.

On the other hand, some Albanian media have also interpreted Prime Minister Rama’s attitude as nervousness, naming China and Russia as the most important allies for the Prime Minister.

Publicly contradictory positions

What stands out is the fact that the prime minister takes different positions on the same topic. If in Paris, Rama appreciates the “vaccine diplomacy” used by China and Russia to extend their influence in the Western Balkans, on the other hand, he admits that the aid of these countries cannot be compared to that of the European Union.

In January 2022 for the Financial Times, while talking about the “diversion” that China, Russia and Turkey are doing to the countries of the region, Rama emphasized the difference between the goods that come from these countries and those that come from the European Union. ” Others can bring money, investments, maybe even caviar, but they won’t be able to bring what it takes to build a functioning free country ,” Rama told the Financial Times.

*This article was produced as part of the regional initiative the Center Against Disinformation of the Western Balkans

Edited by Viola Keta & Aimona Vogli


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Të fundit

Më të lexuarat