JAN. 22 2021 (The Bulletin) — Governments in the region are taking different approaches to vaccinating their populations against Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. And it makes for instructive analysis.
In Georgia, the most pro-Western country in the region, the government has said it intends to start inoculating its population next month with the Pfizer vaccine. Sputnik-V, the Russian Covid-19 vaccine, doesn’t even feature in the thinking of the EU-dreaming, NATO-aiming Georgian government.
In Armenia, though, Sputnik-V is at the top of the list, although its inoculation ambitions are more limited. Economically, Armenia has been hit the hardest by the coronavirus pandemic and it plans to inoculate just the 10% of the population that it considers to be most at risk.
You may have expected Azerbaijan to also prioritise using Sputnik-V to get on top of the coronavirus but, instead, it has placed its cornerstone order with China and its vaccine Sinovac. This reflects growing tension, and possibly even rivalry, between Azerbaijan and Russia. Azerbaijan heavily leaned on Turkey to defeat Armenia in a six-week war for control of the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh and in the process appears to have secured Turkey a foothold in the South Caucasus, irritating the Kremlin. Azerbaijan has also completed construction of a gas pipeline running from the Caspian Sea to Europe and will come into direct competition with Russia.
Azerbaijan hasn’t ignored Sputnik-V altogether and has put in an order, spreading its bets, a tactic it uses, some would say, in its foreign policy.
On the other side of the Caspian Sea, it’s a more opaque, or should that be confused, outlook for vaccine orders. Turkmenistan, which officially denies that it has ever had a case of Covid-19 within its borders was the first country in the region to approve the use of Sputnik-V. Why?
In Kazakhstan, the authorities have said that they will use the Sputnik-V vaccine to inoculate a third of the population by the end of the year and in Uzbekistan, one of the test centres for Sinovac, the government there has said it will deploy a mix of the Russian and Chinese vaccines to inoculate its population. Uzbekistan, with a population double the size of Kazakhstan’s, has the biggest inoculation logistics challenge.
Bottom of the list are Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Reflecting their far poorer status, both countries are relying on donations from Russia and China as well as the UN’s COVAX scheme for their inoculation cover. Officials in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have said that the coronavirus pandemic has largely passed. This is, like their vaccine rollout plans, largely wishful thinking.
— This story was first published in issue 469 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin
— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021