Putin Touts Russia’s Coronavirus Vaccine at the U.N. General Assembly

Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a speech during an awards ceremony for those who led the construction of the 19 kilometres (12 miles) road and rail Crimean Bridge over the Kerch Strait - that links mainland Russia to Moscow-annexed Crimea - in Sevastopol, Crimea, on March 18, 2020. (Photo by …
ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP via Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin took the opportunity of addressing the 2020 United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday to urge the world to embrace a Chinese coronavirus vaccine candidate he approved, despite it not yet passing scientific testing.

Putin generally told the Assembly that his country believes the U.N. Security Council should be “more inclusive of the interests of all countries, as well as the diversity of their positions.” However, he said it was necessary for the permanent members of the Security Council, including Russia, to “retain their veto power” to maintain “global governance.” Putin insisted this special veto for the five powers that won the Second World War “remains indicative of the actual military and political balance to this day.”

Putin touted Russia’s contributions to “global and regional counter-COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] efforts,” including “providing assistance to most affected states, both bilaterally and within multilateral formats.” He boasted about Russia’s ostensible development of “a range of testing systems and medicines to detect and treat the coronavirus, as well as registering the world’s first vaccine,” which he insisted is “reliable, safe, and effective.”

Putin announced that Russia wishes to hold a “high-level conference” with prospective partner nations who might be interested in helping Russia develop and distribute its putative vaccine. He further called on the entire global pharmaceutical industry to help manufacture and distribute Russia’s vaccine worldwide. 

He might not have many takers for that demand, as worldwide researchers are questioning the integrity of the data in Russia’s vaccine trials, and even Russian doctors are proving reluctant to employ the treatment outside of the clinical trial groups. No evidence at press time suggests any guarantees exist for the effectiveness of the vaccine candidate. Putin said Russia is willing to provide the U.N. with vaccinations for all of its staffers, free of charge. Putin claimed Moscow has already received an unspecified number of favorable inquiries from U.N. personnel.

Putin praised the role of the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) in coordinating those efforts and said it was “essential to qualitatively strengthen the W.H.O.’s capability.” The United States, which provided the lion’s share of W.H.O. funding, formally withdrew its support in July due to the organization’s poor performance during the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic and the excessive influence of Communist China.

Regarding global governance generally, Putin’s understanding of it stressed keeping the United Nations out of the sovereign affairs of member states and respecting the right of their peoples to self-governance, ideas that sound better when they are not coming from authoritarian regimes with presidents-for-life who retain power through dodgy elections and suspicious misfortunes befalling opposition leaders. 

Putin listed the most serious challenges to the current world order as “the arms control system breaking down” — a veiled reference to the United States calling Russia out for cheating on arms control deals — “regional conflicts continuing unabated, threats posed by terrorism, organized crime, and drug trafficking,” along with the latest global menace, the coronavirus pandemic.

Putin noted that experts have not even begun to assess the long-term damage from the pandemic and its lockdowns, but said it was clear that it will “take a very long time to restore the global economy.” He said the nations of the world, especially the prosperous G20 nations, should work together to recover from the pandemic and create better emergency procedures for future events of comparable scale.

Putin touted Russia’s “purely pragmatic and increasingly relevant” initiative to “form a greater Eurasian partnership, involving all Asian and European countries, without exception.” He also boosted Russia’s proposal to “create green corridors, free from trade wars and sanctions, primarily for essential goods, food, medicine, and personal protective equipment needed to fight the pandemic.”

“In general, freeing world trade from barriers, bans, restrictions, and illegitimate sanctions would be of great help in revitalizing global growth and reducing unemployment,” he said. Russia is currently under U.S. sanctions for a variety of criminal actions and human rights abuses.

Putin said the pandemic has also “pinpointed a series of ethical, technological, and humanitarian matters,” such as the use of advanced digital resources for distance learning and remote medical diagnoses. 

“However, just like any other innovation, digital technologies tend to spread uncontrollably — and, just like conventional weapons, can fall into the hands of various radicals and extremists, not only in regional conflict zones but also in quite prosperous countries, thus engendering enormous risks,” he warned, calling on the U.N. to take the lead in establishing new standards for digital safety, particularly in the area of artificial intelligence.

Putin concluded with very brief iterations of the standard U.N.-speech call for global adherence to the Paris climate change accords and a promise to work against the proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, spending literally seconds on each topic. He said the highest priority should be extending the U.S.-Russia strategic arms reduction treaty, due to expire in February 2021.

Although Putin did not mention it, the major stumbling block in extending that treaty is President Donald Trump’s insistence that China should be included in a three-way arms deal that accurately reflects its growth as a military and nuclear power, and that Russia should help bring China to the table. To date, China has stubbornly refused to participate in trilateral arms negotiations. 

In the meantime, he said he expected “mutual restraint would be exercised with regard to the deployment of new missile systems,” talking up Russia’s self-imposed “moratorium on deploying ground-launched medium and long-range missiles in Europe and other regions,” provided the U.S. “also refrains from such actions.”

“Unfortunately, we have not received any reaction to our proposal from either our U.S. partners or their allies,” he lamented. 

Here again, Putin omitted the rather important detail that Russia already has an abundance of intermediate-range missiles pointed at Europe, thanks to years of cheating on the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. NATO members have been discussing the deployment of new missile and defense systems just to catch up with Russia’s illicit edge in ground-based cruise missiles, including nuclear-capable weapons. 

Putin additionally said Russia seeks a “binding agreement between all the leading space powers that would provide for the prohibition of the placement of weapons in outer space, or the threat or use of force against outer space objects.”

U.S. Space Command reported in July that it found evidence of Russia testing the latest in a series of space-based anti-satellite weapons systems. The U.S. State Department called the deployment “hypocritical and concerning” given Russian rhetoric against the militarization of space. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Ford bluntly accused the Russians of trying to browbeat the U.S. and its allies out of developing orbital defenses while Moscow clearly has “no intention of halting its own counterspace program.”

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