Diplomatic row as Slovakia says will pay for Russia vaccine with Ukraine territory

Kate Ng
·2-min read
Virus Outbreak Slovakia Sputnik V (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Virus Outbreak Slovakia Sputnik V (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Slovakia has been plunged into a diplomatic row after its prime minister joked about paying for Russia’s Covid-19 vaccine shipments with Ukrainian territory.

Slovak prime minister Igor Matovic said in a radio interview on Wednesday that he promised to exchange Ukraine’s southern Zakarpattia region for Russia’s home made vaccine, Sputnik V.

He later said it was a joke, adding: “I didn’t promise anything… I was just attempting to secure a vaccine.

Mr Matovic has now apologised for the comments, admitting they were “improper”. He said in a statement on his Facebook page: “Slovakia’s stance on Ukraine’s territorial integrity has always been very clear. Observing international law is essential.

“I apologise to all Ukrainians for my improper reaction that could have undermined their justified efforts.”

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement prior to Mr Matovic’s apology: “Regardless of motives, genre or context, such remarks as the Head of the Slovak Government, which directly allude to the territorial integrity of Ukraine, are categorically unacceptable.

“A ‘joke’ sounds especially offensive to the Ukrainian people suffering from the Russian aggression and Russian occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol as well as parts of the Ukrainian Donbass,” it added.

Slovakia is in the midst of a political crisis, which was triggered by a secret deal to acquire Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine orchestrated by Mr Matovic, despite disagreement among his coalition partners.

The crisis worsened on Wednesday after Richard Sulik, a member of the ruling coalition, demanded a reconstruction of the Cabinet.

Mr Matovic defended the deal to acquire two million doses of the vaccine, saying it would speed up the vaccination programme in Slovakia, which is one of the countries hardest-hit by the pandemic in the EU.

But others in the coalition have condemned the deal, saying the vaccine was a geopolitical tool in Russia’s hybrid war against the West and had not been approved by the EU’s drug regulator, the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

The EMA started a rolling review of Sputnik V this week, based on results from laboratory studies and clinical studies in adults, to assess the jab’s compliance with EU standards for effectiveness, safety and quality.

Additional reporting by AP

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