• CDR (ret.) Eyal Pinko, Ph.D.

Serbia - the Vaccination Hub of the Balkans

In February 2021, a contract was signed between Russia and Serbia to establish a Russian COVID-19 vaccine " Sputnik V" production line, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić declared.

The Serbian intention is to produce about six million vaccines for the country's citizens and at least another ten million more for the Balkan countries.

The Serbian president noted that Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and the Russian vaccine vaccines had arrived in Serbia. At the same time, Serbia has not yet received vaccines from the World Health Organization (WHO) COVAX program.

Serbia has vaccinated about 15% of its population and placed it second only to the UK and well ahead of any other EU country.

Russian experts began working in Serbia to establish the production line. Production will take place in two stages. The first stage is expected to start during April this year and next towards the end of 2021.

Simultaneously with the Russian production line, Serbia agreed on March 11, 2021, that another production plant would be set up in its territory to produce Chinese vaccines, Sinopharm. China and the United Arab Emirates will fund the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine production line.

The Serbian production of the Chinese vaccine is expected to be distributed from October 2021.

Serbia will become the first country in Europe to produce the COVID-19 vaccine. Even more than that, Serbia is on its way to becoming a COVID-19 vaccine-producer power in the EU (and maybe later at the international level).

Other Balkan countries, including Bulgaria, Albania, northern Macedonia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Montenegro, and others, began vaccinating their populations but received only a small number of vaccines (beyond the reluctance of citizens in these countries to get vaccinated).

According to epidemiologists in the Balkans, residents of these countries refuse to receive COVID-19 vaccines, following media campaigns, the origin of which is unclear, calling on citizens not to get vaccinated.

The Serbian president noted that Serbia would do everything to help the countries of the region, including ethnic minorities in Kosovo. This announcement by the Serbian president caused a great deal of anger in the Kosovo government.

The production of COVID-19 vaccines encourages the Serbian government to implement its regional political ambitions using vaccines' power.

Meanwhile, the Albanian prime minister has pointed an accusing finger at the European Union for limiting EU aid to the Balkans.

In recent months the COVID-19 vaccines have become a political tool used by countries such as Russia, the United Arab Emirates, and China to achieve political power and influence.

Moreover, in the Balkan countries playground in general, and the Western Balkans in particular, a hidden political-economic struggle is taking place, in which global players are vying for control. The United States, Russia, China, Turkey, and the European Union are trying to shape the region, which is considered a strategic importance region.

Investments in national infrastructure, industry, academy, culture, and COVID-19 vaccines, are the political toolbox used by those international players to achieve influence and power in the Balkan Region.

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