Serbia to Establish First European Production Facilities for Chinese and Russian Vaccines

On March 11, Ser­bian Pres­i­dent Alexan­der Vucic announced that Ser­bia would be set­ting up a fac­to­ry near Bel­grade to pro­duce Sinopharm COVID-19 vac­cines by Octo­ber 2021, with finan­cial sup­port from Chi­na and the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates.  The site would rep­re­sent the first Chi­nese COVID-19 vac­cine pro­duc­tion facil­i­ty in Europe.  Vucic not­ed that the fac­to­ry, with a pro­duc­tion capac­i­ty of 2–3 mil­lion vac­cines per month, would pro­vide a long-term strate­gic sup­ply of the vac­cines for domes­tic dis­tri­b­u­tion, as well as region­al export.

At approx­i­mate­ly the same time, it was announced that, by May 2020, Ser­bia also expect­ed to start pro­duc­ing the Russ­ian Sput­nik V vac­cine at the Tor­lak Insti­tute, locat­ed in Bel­grade, in coop­er­a­tion with the Russ­ian Direct Invest­ment Fund, Gama­leya Insti­tute, the Russ­ian Min­istry of Indus­try and Trade, and the fac­to­ry “Gemeriyum” from Vladimir Oblast.  Like the Chi­nese announce­ment, this is also described as the first such pro­duc­tion facil­i­ty (for the Russ­ian vac­cine) in Europe.  Accord­ing to Ser­bian Min­is­ter of Inno­va­tion Nenad Popovic, the vac­cines pro­duced at this facil­i­ty would also be for domes­tic use and export purposes.

Ser­bia has become a region­al leader in vac­cine pro­cure­ment and dis­tri­b­u­tion, pro­vid­ing Bel­grade increased influ­ence and pres­tige in an area where non-EU mem­ber states in par­tic­u­lar have suf­fered from low­er vac­ci­na­tion rates and lim­it­ed access.  All of the vac­cines received, for exam­ple, by Mon­tene­gro, Mace­do­nia, and Bosnia, have report­ed­ly either flowed through Ser­bia or were received direct­ly from Rus­sia or China.

Although some of the vac­cines received by Ser­bia (includ­ing those they have, in turn, dis­trib­uted else­where in the region) came from Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford AstraZeneca, Beijing’s – and Russia’s – vac­cine diplo­ma­cy with Bel­grade has been par­tic­u­lar­ly robust and, thus far, suc­cess­ful.  At the start of the pan­dem­ic, in March 2020, Vucic declared that “Euro­pean sol­i­dar­i­ty does not exist,” indi­cat­ing that “only Chi­na can help Ser­bia fight the virus.”  Devel­op­ments that have unfold­ed since then have been a reflec­tion of this ear­ly sentiment.

The planned Chi­nese and Russ­ian vac­cine pro­duc­tion facil­i­ties are expect­ed to help Ser­bia fur­ther estab­lish itself as the region­al leader in COVID-19 vac­ci­na­tion efforts, like­ly simul­ta­ne­ous­ly advanc­ing Chi­nese and Russ­ian inter­ests in the region.