Sputnik deal by Markus Söder: The wrong signal at the wrong time

They all rely on a vaccine that has not yet been approved by the EU Medicines Agency and for which there is ongoing criticism of a lack of transparency and incomplete information on efficiency and potential risks.

While that AstraZeneca–The preparation was temporarily put on hold due to extremely rare complications, there are no corresponding data for the Russian vaccine. Sputnik V was presented with great fanfare last summer as the winner in the race for a Covid-19 vaccine, even before clinical studies were completed. And the number of studies is still very thin.

Buying a pig in a poke would be justified if we had to reckon with a shortage of proven vaccines in the future. But this is not the case. After the initial breakdowns and start-up difficulties, deliveries are now ramping up. Next Biontech/Pfizer, Modern and AstraZeneca now also delivers Johnson & Johnson to Europe, Curevac is about to be approved. As of March 18, 261 million vaccine doses have been promised for the Federal Republic within the framework of EU procurement; there are also options for a further 70 million based on national agreements with Biontech / Pfizer and Curevac.

So there is no urgent need for Sputnik V.; In addition, the announced delivery quantities are not significant in terms of numbers. The Russian vaccine is by no means available in abundance - at the beginning of April only 3,1 percent of the population in Germany had been vaccinated twice, in Germany 5,2 percent. For the Kremlin export has priority, accompanied by propaganda fireworks on all channels: Look here, the rescue comes from Moscow! Sputnik V is not a non-political vaccine, but a prestige project of the Russian leadership.

Why is Söder pushing ahead anyway? The Sputnik deal is above all a political coup: Söder shows the lazy Berlin once again how robust crisis management works. At the same time he presents himself as a détente politician with good relations with Moscow. Partnership with Russiawho didn't want that? The only fatal thing is that the advocates of closer cooperation completely ignore the real politics of the Kremlin.

While the Sputnik agreements are being celebrated as proof of political vigor, Putin is bringing combat troops and heavy weapons to the borders of the Ukraine in position. Columns of tanks roll towards Ukraine, Russian gunboats and landing ships take up position off the Ukrainian Black Sea coast, nuclear-capable »Iskander« missiles are being relocated from the Urals to the border region. Putin's press spokesman Peskov announced that Russian citizens would be defended in Donbass. State television threatens that a war with Russia would be the end of Ukraine. Dmitri Kosak, the Kremlin's representative for Ukraine, whispers about a "new Srebrenica" that Russia will prevent. The arsonist plays the fire brigade - it couldn't be more cunning.

The Kremlin is not a partner but an opponent of democratic Europe

What rides a prime minister with federal political ambitions to proclaim the German-Russian vaccination partnership in this situation? That too Alexei Navalny, Putin's most prominent critic, is ruined in the penal camp, does not matter to the Sputnik supporters. One regrets and moves on to the order of the day. All of this is fatally reminiscent of Nord Stream 2. The contracts for this project were signed just as Putin had annexed Crimea and started the war in eastern Ukraine. Even then, that sent the wrong signal to the Kremlin: You can do what you want - we will ensure that the ruble keeps rolling and we extend our hand to your geopolitical ambitions.

Even then, the illusion of "change through rapprochement" was sought. Since then, internal repression and aggressive external policy have only become sharper: bombing in Syria, creeping annexation of Donbass, assassinations against opposition members, increasing pressure on civil society in Russia, hacker attacks on the Germans Bundestag, large-scale disinformation and propaganda through Russian state media and internet trolls - the list could be extended. We still pretend that Putin and Co. can be appeased by money and good words instead of facing the facts: the Kremlin is not a partner but an opponent of democratic Europe, Moscow is the headquarters of the anti-liberal International. We must contain the systemic conflict with Russia, but should refrain from anything that strengthens the current regime.

It does not follow from this that all bridges must be broken. Diplomacy is the art of moderating conflicting interests. At the same time, cooperation with Russian civil society, cultural exchange and support for the democratic forces in the country are more urgent than ever. Russia is and will remain an important trading partner. But you have to know who we are dealing with in the Kremlin, and we should be careful not to send the wrong signals. In a situation in which the Russian leadership is threatening military escalation against Ukraine, there must be a clear message from the West: this far and no further.

Putin is speculating that he can always go one step further and at the same time find enough partners in Europe who want to do financial and political business with Russia. We should not pursue this calculation any further. The Sputnik deal sends the wrong signal at the wrong time.