Ukrainian firm applies to make Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine, sparking political dilemma

A man enters the headquarters of Ukrainian pharmaceutical company Biolik in Kharkiv

KYIV (Reuters) – A Ukrainian pharmaceutical company backed by a prominent Russian-leaning opposition figure has applied for state approval to make Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine, a sensitive move given toxic relations between Kyiv and Moscow.

The two countries have been at loggerheads since Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and involvement in a conflict in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region which Kyiv says has killed 14,000 people.

Ukraine’s government has played down the prospects of approving the Sputnik V vaccine quickly, if at all.

Health Minister Maksym Stepanov told Reuters the issue was being used as “political PR” by some forces and as part of Russia’s “hybrid warfare” against Ukraine.

Ukrainian pharmaceutical firm Biolik said in a statement on its website it had applied to register Gam-COVID-Vac, also known as Sputnik V, in Ukraine. Russia on Saturday floated the idea of holding clinical trials in Ukraine.

“I am not going to assess the chances of the Biolik company,” Stepanov said by phone. “It would be very mild to say that we are not sure about the Russian vaccine. We do not know how the research was carried out.”

Biolik’s application has been promoted by the Ukrainian opposition politician Viktor Medvedchuk, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Deputy Health Minister Viktor Lyashko was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying Ukraine would only use vaccines that had finished clinical trials. Sputnik V is still undergoing Phase III trials.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told the New York Times last month that the vaccine would be used in Russia’s “information war” against Ukraine.

But he was also quoted as saying “…it is impossible to explain to Ukrainian society why not take the vaccine from Russia if America and Europe do not give you the vaccine. It is impossible to explain that to anyone who dies.”

Zelenskiy’s government expects to receive COVID-19 vaccines from China and the global COVAX scheme for poorer nations to fight the pandemic.

Stepanov said Ukraine would sign more contracts with trusted manufacturers in the near future.

(Writing by Matthias Williams. Editing by Mark Potter)

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