The Twitter account of the Russian COVID-19 “Sputnik V” vaccine was suspended yesterday after the Silicon Valley-based platform detected suspicious attempts to log into it. Raising more eyebrows was the stated location of the attempted hack: not Russia, but Virginia, U.S.A.
The news immediately prompted Internet sleuths to question who was behind the hack. “Now who in Virginia might want to sabotage a global health initiative by one of Washington’s “official enemies?” wrote former MintPress contributor Morgan Artyukhina. Virginia is, of course, home to many of the three-letter national security agencies engaged in online warfare, including the CIA. Many social media users suggested this was evidence of a failed nefarious action. Sputnik’s Twitter account has since been reinstated.
Named after the first manmade satellite to orbit the Earth, the vaccine is among the first to be developed and brought to market. With rich nations buying up huge quantities of Western vaccines before they were even approved, leaving little for poorer states, Sputnik is primarily being used in Russia, Asia, and Latin America. Already, 727 million doses have been ordered by 50 countries, including 200 million from India and 160 million from Russia. Meanwhile, Brazil has ordered 100 million and Mexico 24 million. Bolivia, Argentina, and Venezuela are also major customers. In December, Hungary became the first EU nation to purchase the shots, and there is a possibility that the vaccine could be rolled out across the continent soon. Testing occurred in a number of nations in the Global South and the vaccine will be produced in nine countries.
Like Western variants, Sputnik must be delivered in two shots weeks apart and must also be stored in deep freezer conditions (-18°C/-0.4°F). Developed by the state-run Gamaleya Institute, it is a viral vector vaccine, meaning that it employs another virus to carry the DNA encoding of the desired immune response into cells. Protein coding genes from the coronavirus are inserted into two common cold-like viruses that have been genetically modified so they cannot replicate inside the human body. Trial results suggest that the injections are between 91-95% effective, similar to the Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer vaccines.
However, Western politicians and press have been casting doubts and fears on the safety and effectiveness of the product for months, describing it as “controversial” (The Guardian) or “rushed” (BBC). Others, such as CNN and CNBC have characterized it as unsafe and ineffective.
This is perhaps unsurprising, given the new levels of anti-Russian sentiment expressed in the corporate media since 2016. A central claim from many in the Democratic Party is that the Russian government strongly interfered in the presidential election and swung the result for Donald J. Trump. Russian President Vladimir Putin is supposedly in possession of incriminating evidence on Trump, making the man in the White House a “Siberian candidate,” according to many. Russophobic sentiment has reached such heights that former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper could appear on NBC’s Meet the Press to claim that Russians are “genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate [and] gain favor” and receive no push back at all.
Democrats also immediately saw Russia’s hand behind the deadly storming of the Capitol Building earlier this month. “A complete tool of Putin, this president is. Putin’s goal was to diminish the view of democracy in the world. That’s what he has been about … the president gave him the biggest of all of his many gifts to Putin” said Nancy Pelosi. “This is the day that Vladimir Putin has waited for since he had to leave East Germany as a young KGB officer,” reacted Obama advisor Ben Rhodes. “Putin’s Disinformation Campaign Claims Stunning Victory With Capitol Hill ‘Coup’” wrote Omer Benjakob in Haaretz.
All of this was a far cry from 2012 when Democrats relentlessly mocked Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for suggesting Russia was a threat. “Romney talks like he’s only seen Russia by watching ‘Rocky IV’” joked former presidential candidate John Kerry. “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back… the Cold War’s been over for 20 years,” President Obama quipped, attempting to present his opponent as a man stuck in the distant past.
But while many in the Democratic Party see Trump as being either soft on (or controlled by) Putin, in reality, the 45th president has adopted a highly aggressive policy towards Moscow. Trump’s administration armed far-right rebel groups in Ukraine, something Obama shied away from. He also increased sanctions on Russia, bombed a Russian military base in Syria, and walked away from a number of anti-nuclear treaties crucial in maintaining the peace between the two powers.
As a result, Americans’ view of Russia has crashed. As late as 2011, a substantial majority of the country saw Russia in a positive light. Today, the country has a 28% favorable and a 72% unfavorable rating. By comparison, in 1989, during the Cold War, 62% of Americans saw the Soviet Union as either “highly” or “mostly” favorable, according to historic data from pollster Gallup.
Despite the Western speculation about the vaccine’s effectiveness, Sputnik V is considered a superior, more trustworthy vaccine by people in the Global South, according to a study of 11 nations conducted by British polling group YouGov. Good thing too, as, lacking the ability to pay, they might not be able to receive any other COVID-19 shot. Although Russia continues to be a central issue in U.S. politics, it is doubtful whether this attempted hack will receive anything like the attention other alleged hacks going the other way have received.
Feature photo | A medical worker waits for Serbian Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin and Serbia’s parliament speaker Ivica Dacica to take a shot of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in Belgrade, Serbia, Jan. 6, 2021. Darko Vojinovic | AP
Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, The Guardian, Salon, The Grayzone, Jacobin Magazine, Common Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.