Ever since Boris Yeltsin- the first President of Russia, after the Soviet Union disintegration- appointed Vladimir Putin as President in August 1999, the leader had only consolidated his hold on the power structure of the country. In the last two decades, Putin made all necessary changes in the Russian constitution to keep power in his hand.
The former KGB officer, who often gets emotional and nostalgic while talking about the erstwhile Soviet Union, wants to revive the former glory of the borderless Communist alliance. He sees himself as the man destined to do the task and this is one of the reasons that he is skeptical about handing over power to someone else.
The Coronavirus pandemic, which unsettled existing geo political alliances, has brought a golden opportunity for Putin to revive the former Soviet Union glory. Therefore, Putin diverted all his intellectual and financial resources for finding a vaccine to the virus, and finally, as per his admission, has succeeded.
Reiterating Soviet era achievements
“This morning, for the first time in the world, a vaccine against the new coronavirus was registered. I know that it is quite effective, that it gives sustainable immunity,” announced Putin on Russian television on Wednesday.
The vaccine has been named Sputnik V, a Soviet era satellite that was launched to into space, again to remind people about the great space race between Soviet Union and United States.
To enforce the effectiveness of vaccine, Putin told the audience that one of his daughters had been inoculated. “In this sense she took part in the experiment,” Putin said, adding that she had a slight temperature after a second injection and “that’s all”.
Putin plans to earn big money for Russia through the vaccine, in order to support the crumbling economy. Russia Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), the sovereign wealth fund of Russia which financed the research for the vaccine, said that industrial level production of the vaccine is expected to start in September in 20 countries, which have made “preliminary applications for over one billion doses” of vaccine. Although the name of the countries is yet to be revealed, India, being strategic ally of Russia and largest vaccine manufacturer and exporters in the world, will definitely be one of them.
Also, along with foreign partners Russia will manufacture 500 million doses of vaccine per year in five countries, said Kiril Dmitriyev, the head of RDIF. On the criticism by Western experts over hurried vaccine development, Dmitriyev said, “We should leave politics behind and enjoy this moment,” he said. “We are not forcing this vaccine on anyone.”
Due to falling energy prices, the natural resources dependent Russian economy registered significant decline in the last few years. The GDP of the country in 2019 was just 1.6 trillion dollars and expected to decline double digit in 2020, and therefore, the country is no longer an economic power. It is not even in top 10 countries by GDP. If the vaccine is successful, it will not only bring billions of dollars to the country but also help other countries to start economic activity which can led to recovery of oil prices and therefore support the Russian economy.
Attempt to project Russia’s soft power and hard power
In the last few months, all the talks of International Relations have centered on the United States, China, and India. Russia, which used to be taken as global power despite the disintegration of Soviet Union, faded out of picture given the assertive rise of China and US-Indian cooperation on many issues.
Analysts like Francis Fukuyama have already started talking about the United States-China cold war with India playing an important role, and Russia is nowhere to be seen in these discussions.
Therefore, this is also an attempt by Putin to tell the world that Russia is still a serious player in global power. It is also an attempt by Russia to get registered as a serious player in global technology and research, where it fell behind in the last few decades given no innovation in these fields. On the other hand, the United States and China continued to innovate and expand, and today their products are available in almost every country in the world.
The vaccine development, if successful at industrial scale, can give Russia the much needed economic and soft power boost, and can help Putin to reach few steps closer to his dream of reviving the glory of the Soviet Union.