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German vaccine boss praises Russian vaccine as ‘clever’

The head of Germany’s vaccine agency has praised Russia’s Sputnik V inoculation against coronavirus, saying he expects it to be approved in Europe.

German vaccine boss praises Russian vaccine as ‘clever’
The Sputnik V vaccine. Photo: DPA

“This is a good vaccine that will probably also be approved in the EU at some point. The Russian researchers are very experienced with vaccines. Sputnik V is cleverly built,” Thomas Mertens, head of the vaccine commission Stiko, told the Rheinische Post on Tuesday.

Russia approved Sputnik V for use last summer, something that led to criticism in the international research community. Other scientists questioned whether the vaccine was as effective as Russian studies claimed.

Some EU states have already started using the Russian jab, having granted it emergency approval. Hungary and Slovakia have both followed this path.

After the medical journal The Lancet declared in early February that Sputnik V is 92 percent effective, Angela Merkel declared that “every vaccine is welcome in the European Union”.

She said she had already spoken to Putin in January about how Germany could assist Russia’s vaccine efforts, offering the help of Germany’s Paul Ehrlich Institute with the EMA application process.

Health Minister Jens Spahn also declared in February that talks were ongoing with Moscow to explore production capacities for the Sputnik jab in Germany or elsewhere in Europe.

Speaking at an online forum, Spahn described the cooperation with Moscow as “constructive and critical”, and stressed that the only way out of the pandemic was for the world community to work together.

SEE ALSO: Germany moves to bring Russian vaccine into EU

A Health Ministry spokeswoman told AFP that Russia had already reached out to German biotechnology firm IDT Biologika to discuss jointly making the Sputnik vaccine.

But the vaccine is still controversial among some scientists in Europe.

Christa Wirthumer-Hoche, from the European Medicine Agency (EMA) told an Austrian TV station that “there’s still too much that isn’t known about the vaccine and key data is missing.”

“Therefore, I would strongly advise against issuing a national emergency authorisation.”

Case rate falls

On Wednesday the Robert Koch Institute confirmed that 9,146 new infections with the virus have been reported in the past 24 hours as well as a further 300 deaths.

The numbers represent a continuation of the recent flatlining in cases. A week ago 9,019 new cases were reported.

The 7-day incidence fell on Wednesday to 65.4 from 67.5 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. Four weeks ago that seven-day incidence stood at 68 per 100,000.

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RUSSIA

Germany arrests Russian scientist for spying for Moscow

German police arrested a Russian scientist working at an unidentified university, accusing him of spying for Moscow, prosecutors said on Monday, in a case that risks further inflaming bilateral tensions.

Germany arrests Russian scientist for spying for Moscow
Vladimir Putin. Photo: dpa/AP | Patrick Semansky

Federal prosecutors said in a statement that the suspect, identified only as Ilnur N., had been taken into custody on Friday on suspicion of “working for a Russian secret service since early October 2020 at the latest”.

Ilnur N. was employed until the time of his arrest as a research assistant for a natural sciences and technology department at the unnamed German university.

German investigators believe he met at least three times with a member of Russian intelligence between October 2020 and this month. On two occasions he allegedly “passed on information from the university’s domain”.

He is suspected of accepting cash in exchange for his services.

German authorities searched his home and workplace in the course of the arrest.

The suspect appeared before a judge on Saturday who remanded him in custody.

‘Completely unacceptable’

Neither the German nor the Russian government made any immediate comment on the case.

However Moscow is at loggerheads with a number of Western capitals after a Russian troop build-up on Ukraine’s borders and a series of espionage scandals that have resulted in diplomatic expulsions.

Italy this month said it had created a national cybersecurity agency following warnings by Prime Minister Mario Draghi that Europe needed to
protect itself from Russian “interference”. 

The move came after an Italian navy captain was caught red-handed by police while selling confidential military documents leaked from his computer to a Russian embassy official.

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The leaders of nine eastern European nations last month condemned what they termed Russian “aggressive acts” citing operations in Ukraine and “sabotage” allegedly targeted at the Czech Republic.

Several central and eastern European countries have expelled Russian diplomats in solidarity with Prague but Russia has branded accusations of its involvement as “absurd” and responded with tit-for-tat expulsions.

The latest espionage case also comes at a time of highly strained relations between Russia and Germany on a number of fronts including the ongoing detention of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who received treatment in Berlin after a near-fatal poisoning.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has moreover worked to maintain a sanctions regime over Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, the scene of ongoing fighting between pro-Russia separatists and local forces.

And Germany has repeatedly accused Russia of cyberattacks on its soil.

The most high-profile incident blamed on Russian hackers to date was a cyberattack in 2015 that completely paralysed the computer network of the Bundestag lower house of parliament, forcing the entire institution offline for days while it was fixed.

German prosecutors in February filed espionage charges against a German man suspected of having passed the floor plans of parliament to Russian secret services in 2017.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas last week said Germany was expecting to be the target of Russian disinformation in the run-up to its general election in September, calling it “completely unacceptable”.

Russia denies being behind such activities.

Despite international criticism, Berlin has forged ahead with plans to finish the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, set to double natural gas supplies from Russia to Germany.

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