At least 200,000 Russians have left the country in the week since President Vladimir V. Putin announced a partial military mobilization after a series of setbacks in the country’s war with Ukraine, according to figures provided by Russia’s neighbors.
The mobilization could pull as many as 300,000 civilians into military service, from what Russian officials have said is a pool of some 25 million draft-eligible adults on their rolls, suggesting that the departures, though unusual, may not prevent the Kremlin from achieving its conscription goals.
Video posted on social media platforms showed long lines of cars approaching border checkpoints in countries including Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Georgia and Finland. The rapid outflow, as well as a series of protests in different parts of the country, are a stark display of discontent with Mr. Putin’s policy.
“I left because of my disagreement with the current government in Russia,” said Alexander Oleinikov, 29, a bus driver from Moscow who had crossed overland into northeastern Georgia. He said that many people he knew were against the war, which he called a “tragedy” caused by “one crazy dictator.”
The size of the exodus is difficult to determine, however, given that Russia has borders with 14 countries, stretching from China and North Korea to the Baltic States, and not all governments release regular data about migration.
The government of Kazakhstan said on Tuesday that 98,000 Russians had entered the country in the last week and Georgia’s interior minister said more than 53,000 people had crossed into the country from Russia since Sept. 21, when the mobilization was announced. The daily number climbed over those days to around 10,000 from a normal level of about 5,000 to 6,000.
The European Union’s border agency, Frontex, said in a statement that nearly 66,000 Russian citizens entered the bloc in the week to Sunday, up 30 percent from the previous week.
Those numbers give some additional credence to the scale of exodus described in a report over the weekend by the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which cited what it said was a security service estimate, provided by an unnamed source, of 261,000 men having left the country by Sunday.
There is also evidence that Russia may be moving to stem the flow of departures. On Wednesday, Russia’s North Ossetia republic imposed restrictions on cars arriving from other parts of the country. The republic’s governor, Sergei Menyaylo, said the ban was being introduced after 20,000 people crossed the border in two days.
Some European countries have already imposed border restrictions with Russia, including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, which have closed their doors to most Russian citizens. Finland is considering similar measures.
On Wednesday, the United States Embassy in Moscow, which had previously urged its citizens to leave Russia, restated the position in the light of the mobilization drive, warning that those with dual Russian and American nationality could be at risk of being drafted.
Russia is also attempting to clamp down on citizens trying to leave the country. On Tuesday, the state news media reported that men waiting to flee at the Georgia border were being served call-up papers.
Some analysts, however, cautioned that the practical impact of the departures was likely to be limited.
“Many young Russian men are departing in a mass exodus from Russia,”said Mick Ryan, an Australian military expert who has commented extensively on the war in Ukraine. “But millions of others will not have the means to leave Russia to escape their draft notices.”
The exercise, taking place from Sept. 1-7, will involve more than 50,000 troops and over 5,000 weapons units, including 140 aircraft and 60 warships.
Russia said Monday it will launch sweeping military drills in the country’s east that will involve forces from China — a show of increasingly close defense ties between Moscow and Beijing amid tensions with the West over the Kremlin’s action in Ukraine.
The Russian Defense Ministry said that the Vostok 2022 (East 2022) exercise will be held Sept. 1-7 in various locations in Russia’s Far East and the Sea of Japan and involve more than 50,000 troops and over 5,000 weapons units, including 140 aircraft and 60 warships.
The ministry released a video of Chinese troops arriving in Russia in preparation for the exercise.
The drills will be conducted at seven firing ranges in far eastern Russia and will engage troops from several ex-Soviet nations, China, India, Laos, Mongolia, Nicaragua and Syria.
The ministry said that units of Russian Airborne troops, long-range bombers and military cargo planes will take part in the drills along with other forces.
While first announcing the exercise last month, the Russian military emphasized that it’s part of planned combat training that is continuing despite Moscow’s military action in Ukraine. It hasn’t disclosed the number of troops engaged in what the Kremlin calls the “special military operation” there.
The ministry noted that as part of the maneuvers, the Russian and Chinese navies in the Sea of Japan will “practice joint action to protect sea communications, areas of marine economic activity and support for ground troops in littoral areas.”
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Fomin specified that the naval drills would take part in the northern and central part of the Sea of Japan.
“The exercise isn’t directed against any specific countries or military alliances and is purely defensive,” Fomin said at a meeting with foreign military attaches.
The drills reflect increasing defense ties between Moscow and Beijing, which have grown stronger since Russia sent its troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24. China has pointedly refused to criticize Russia’s action, blaming the U.S. and NATO for provoking Moscow, and has blasted punishing sanctions imposed on Moscow.
Russia, in turn, has strongly backed China amid the tensions with the U.S. that followed a recent visit to Taiwan by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Speaking earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin drew parallels between U.S. support for Ukraine and Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan, charging that both were part of alleged American efforts to foment global instability.
Russia and China have held a series of joint war games in recent years, including naval drills and patrols by long-range bombers over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea. Last year, Russian troops for the first time deployed to Chinese territory for joint maneuvers.
Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping have developed strong personal ties to bolster a “strategic partnership” between the former Communist rivals as both Moscow and Beijing face increasing tensions with the West.
Even though Moscow and Beijing in the past rejected the possibility of forging a military alliance, Putin has said that such a prospect can’t be ruled out. He also has noted that Russia has been sharing highly sensitive military technologies with China that helped significantly bolster its defense capability.
While first announcing the drills last month, the Russian Defense Ministry emphasized that it’s part of planned combat training that is continuing despite Moscow’s military action in Ukraine. It hasn’t disclosed the number of troops engaged in what the Kremlin calls the “special military operation” there.
The southwestern Chinese city of Ruili is small, remote and largely unknown internationally. It is also, when it comes to the coronavirus, perhaps the most tightly regulated place on earth.
In the past year, it has been locked down four times, with one shutdown lasting 26 days. Homes in an entire district have been evacuated indefinitely to create a “buffer zone” against cases from elsewhere. Schools have been closed for months, except for a few grades — but only if those students and their teachers do not leave campus.
Many residents, including 59-year-old Liu Bin, have gone months without income, in a city that relies heavily upon tourism and trade with neighboring Myanmar. Mr. Liu, who ran a customs brokerage before cross-border movement essentially stopped, estimated he had lost more than $150,000. He is tested on a near-daily basis. He borrows cigarette money from his son-in-law.
“Why do I have to be oppressed like this? My life is important too,” he said. “I’ve actively followed epidemic control measures. What else do we normal people have to do to meet the standards?”
remained the last country chasing full elimination, for the most part with success. It has recorded fewer than 5,000 virus-related deaths, and in parts of the country without confirmed cases, the outbreak can feel like a hazy memory.
But the residents of Ruili — a lush, subtropical city of about 270,000 people before the pandemic — are facing the extreme and harsh reality of living under a “Zero Covid” policy when even a single case is found.
live on campus. Classrooms have been converted to dorms. Since students are always around, they also have classes on weekends.
told state media he had taken 90 Covid tests over the last seven months. Another parent said that his one-year-old son had been tested 74 times.
Tens of thousands of residents have fled the city for elsewhere in China in the breaks between lockdowns; officials recently acknowledged that the population had dropped to about 200,000. To control the outflow, the authorities now require people to pay for up to 21 days of pre-departure quarantine.
In a sign of the desperation many residents are feeling, a former deputy mayor of Ruili last month wrote a blog post called “Ruili Needs the Motherland’s Care” — a stunning move in a country where officials almost never deviate from the government line.
“Every time the city is locked down is another instance of serious emotional and material loss,” wrote the official, Dai Rongli. “Each experience battling the virus is a new accumulation of grievances.”
according to state media. No cases have been traced to people leaving Ruili for elsewhere in China.
Even so, officials insist that there is little room for adjustment.
“If Ruili’s epidemic does not reach zero, there will be risk of outward transmission,” Ruili’s deputy mayor, Yang Mou, said at a news conference on Oct. 29.
Shanghai’s Disneyland spent hours waiting to be tested on Sunday night before they could leave the park. Parts of Beijing are locked down, and many incoming trains and flights have been canceled.
announced that all traffic lights would be turned red, to prevent unnecessary travel. (It later backtracked.)
Ruili is uniquely vulnerable to both the virus and the burdens of lockdown.
Nestled in the corner of Yunnan Province, it shares more than 100 miles of borders with Myanmar, attracting tourists and traders. In 2019, people passed through its border checkpoint nearly 17 million times, according to official statistics.
When China sealed up the country, trade and tourism all but collapsed. Yet Ruili’s borders remained porous, raising fears of imported cases. And the military coup in Myanmar this year has led some to seek refuge in Ruili, legally or illegally. Some residents have had to dodge stray bullets from the conflict across the border, according to Chinese media reports.
banned residents from livestreaming about the local jade industry to limit gem orders and the movement of delivery people.
told state media that “at the moment, we do not need” additional help. The day before, he had warned against “criminals” who he said would use “public opinion and false information to disrupt social order.”
have admonished people for protesting lockdown conditions.)
Earlier this year, Mr. Li and a group of fellow investors pooled together about $3 million for a jade market in Ruili, which they had hoped to open in May. Instead, the premises have sat empty, though they have continued to pay rent. He has heard nothing about government assistance.
Originally, his company employed about 50 people. Now? “We only dare to keep one person, to guard the door,” he said. “What can you do? We can’t pay them.”
The cost of daily living has shot up. A kilogram of bok choy used to cost less than 6 renminbi, or under $1, Mr. Li said; now the price has jumped to 8 or 10 renminbi.
“The ordinary people,” he sighed, “have no way to live.”
The trip began in Shanghai, where the couple, both former professors, joined a tour group of other retirees. They traveled through Gansu Province and Inner Mongolia, staying at a bed-and-breakfast and eating three times at the same lamb chop restaurant. Flying south to Xi’an, they dropped into a 1,300-year-old temple. Their fellow tour group members checked out an art museum, strolled through parks and visited friends.
Then, on Oct. 16, the day they had planned to visit the Terracotta Warriors, the couple tested positive for the coronavirus.
Since then, China has locked down a city of 4 million, as well as several smaller cities and parts of Beijing, to contain a fresh outbreak that has infected more than 240 people in at least 11 provinces and regions. The authorities have shuttered schools and tourist sites. Government websites have detailed every movement of the unlucky couple and their sprawling web of contacts, including what time they checked into hotels and on which floors of restaurants they sat.
The no-holds-barred response is emblematic of China’s “zero Covid” policy, which has served the country remarkably well: China has reported fewer than 5,000 deaths since the pandemic began. The scale of the new outbreak, while tiny compared to many other countries, is large for China.
Lynette Ong, a political scientist at the University of Toronto. “At a huge cost, though.”
at-times strident nationalism.
Other countries that adopted “zero Covid” policies were hailed as models of competent governance that prioritized saving lives over convenience and economic growth.
As the virus has dragged into its second year, and with the onset of the far more contagious Delta variant, countries are again reconsidering their strategies. Australia, which was home to the world’s longest lockdown, is scrapping quarantine requirements for vaccinated residents returning from overseas. New Zealand formally abandoned its quest for zero this month. Singapore is offering quarantine-free travel to vaccinated tourists from Germany, the United States, France and several other countries.
attacked viciously online as a lackey of foreigners. A former Chinese health minister called such a mindset reckless.
Zhang Jun, an urban studies scholar at the City University of Hong Kong.
In addition, though China has achieved a relatively high full inoculation rate, at 75 percent of its population, questions have emerged about the efficacy of its homegrown vaccines.
And, at least for now, the elimination strategy appears to enjoy public support. While residents in locked-down areas have complained about seemingly arbitrary or overly harsh restrictions on social media, travel is relatively unconstrained in areas without cases. Wealthy consumers have poured money into luxury goods and fancy cars since they’re not spendingon trips abroad.
reinstated them in September amid a spike in infections. (Still, the government is moving forward with travel lanes.)
But experts agree that the costs of expecting zero cases will hit eventually. China’s economic growth is slowing, and domestic travel during a weeklong holiday earlier this month fell below last year’s levels, as a cluster of new cases spooked tourists. Retail sales have proven fitful, recovering and ebbing with waves of the virus.
The country may also suffer diplomatically. Mr. Xi has not left China or received foreign visitors since early 2020, even as other world leaders prepare to gather in Rome for a Group of 20 summit and Glasgow for climate talks.
China’s hard-nosed approach is also trickling down to Hong Kong, the semi-autonomous territory and global financial hub. In trying to align their own Covid prevention policies with the mainland’s, Hong Kong’s leaders have introduced the world’s longest quarantine, ignoring escalating warnings from business leaders about an exodus of foreign firms.
said in a recent interview with Chinese media that once the country reached an 85 percent vaccination rate, “why shouldn’t we open up?”
Until then, those stranded by the lockdowns have been trying to make the best of their situations. State news outlets have reported that roughly 10,000 tourists are trapped in Ejin Banner, a region of Inner Mongolia, after the emergence of cases led to a lockdown. As consolation, the local tourism association has promised them free entry to three popular tourist attractions, redeemable within the next three years.
As the world economy struggles to find its footing, the resurgence of the coronavirus and supply chain chokeholds threaten to hold back the global recovery’s momentum, a closely watched report warned on Tuesday.
The overall growth rate will remain near 6 percent this year, a historically high level after a recession, but the expansion reflects a vast divergence in the fortunes of rich and poor countries, the International Monetary Fund said in its latest World Economic Outlook report.
Worldwide poverty, hunger and unmanageable debt are all on the upswing. Employment has fallen, especially for women, reversing many of the gains they made in recent years.
Uneven access to vaccines and health care is at the heart of the economic disparities. While booster shots are becoming available in some wealthier nations, a staggering 96 percent of people in low-income countries are still unvaccinated.
restrictions and bottlenecks at key ports around the world have caused crippling supply shortages. A lack of workers in many industries is contributing to the clogs. The U.S. Labor Department reported Tuesday that a record 4.3 million workers quit their jobs in August — to take or seek new jobs, or to leave the work force.
Germany, manufacturing output has taken a hit because key commodities are hard to find. And lockdown measures over the summer have dampened growth in Japan.
Fear of rising inflation — even if likely to be temporary — is growing. Prices are climbing for food, medicine and oil as well as for cars and trucks. Inflation worries could also limit governments’ ability to stimulate the economy if a slowdown worsens. As it is, the unusual infusion of public support in the United States and Europe is winding down.
6 percent projected in July. For 2022, the estimate is 4.9 percent.
The key to understanding the global economy is that recoveries in different countries are out of sync, said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics. “Each and every economy is suffering or benefiting from its own idiosyncratic factors,” he said.
For countries like China, Vietnam and South Korea, whose economies have large manufacturing sectors, “inflation hits them where it hurts the most,” Mr. Daco said, raising costs of raw materials that reverberate through the production process.
The pandemic has underscored how economic success or failure in one country can ripple throughout the world. Floods in Shanxi, China’s mining region, and monsoons in India’s coal-producing states contribute to rising energy prices. A Covid outbreak in Ho Chi Minh City that shuts factories means shop owners in Hoboken won’t have shoes and sweaters to sell.
worldwide surge in energy prices threatens to impose more hardship as it hampers the recovery. This week, oil prices hit a seven-year high in the United States. With winter approaching, Europeans are worried that heating costs will soar when temperatures drop. In other spots, the shortages have cut even deeper, causing blackouts in some places that paralyzed transport, closed factories and threatened food supplies.
China, electricity is being rationed in many provinces and many companies are operating at less than half of their capacity, contributing to an already significant slowdown in growth. India’s coal reserves have dropped to dangerously low levels.
And over the weekend, Lebanon’s six million residents were left without any power for more than 24 hours after fuel shortages shut down the nation’s power plants. The outage is just the latest in a series of disasters there. Its economic and financial crisis has been one of the world’s worst in 150 years.
Oil producers in the Middle East and elsewhere are lately benefiting from the jump in prices. But many nations in the region and North Africa are still trying to resuscitate their pandemic-battered economies. According to newly updated reports from the World Bank, 13 of the 16 countries in that region will have lower standards of living this year than they did before the pandemic, in large part because of “underfinanced, imbalanced and ill-prepared health systems.”
Other countries were so overburdened by debt even before the pandemic that governments were forced to limit spending on health care to repay foreign lenders.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, there are fears of a second lost decade of growth like the one experienced after 2010. In South Africa, over one-third of the population is out of work.
And in East Asia and the Pacific, a World Bank update warned that “Covid-19 threatens to create a combination of slow growth and increasing inequality for the first time this century.” Businesses in Indonesia, Mongolia and the Philippines lost on average 40 percent or more of their typical monthly sales. Thailand and many Pacific island economies are expected to have less output in 2023 than they did before the pandemic.
debt ceiling — can further set back the recovery, the I.M.F. warned.
But the biggest risk is the emergence of a more infectious and deadlier coronavirus variant.
Ms. Gopinath at the I.M.F. urged vaccine manufacturers to support the expansion of vaccine production in developing countries.
Earlier this year, the I.M.F. approved $650 billion worth of emergency currency reserves that have been distributed to countries around the world. In this latest report, it again called on wealthy countries to help ensure that these funds are used to benefit poor countries that have been struggling the most with the fallout of the virus.
“We’re witnessing what I call tragic reversals in development across many dimensions,” said David Malpass, the president of the World Bank. “Progress in reducing extreme poverty has been set back by years — for some, by a decade.”
The reason for the surge in Mongolia, Mr. Batbayar said, is that the country reopened too quickly, and many people believed they were protected after only one dose.
“I think you could say Mongolians celebrated too early,” he said. “My advice is the celebrations should start after the full vaccinations, so this is the lesson learned. There was too much confidence.”
Some health officials and scientists are less confident.
Nikolai Petrovsky, a professor at the College of Medicine and Public Health at Flinders University in Australia, said that with all of the evidence, it would be reasonable to assume the Sinopharm vaccine had minimal effect on curbing transmission. A major risk with the Chinese inoculation is that vaccinated people may have few or no symptoms and still spread the virus to others, he said.
“I think that this complexity has been lost on most decision makers around the world.”
In Indonesia, where a new variant is spreading, more than 350 doctors and health care workers recently came down with Covid-19 despite being fully vaccinated with Sinovac, according to the risk mitigation team of the Indonesian Medical Association. Across the country, 61 doctors died between February and June 7. Ten of them had taken the Chinese-made vaccine, the association said.
The numbers were enough to make Kenneth Mak, Singapore’s director of medical services, question the use of Sinovac. “It’s not a problem associated with Pfizer,” Mr. Mak said at a news conference on Friday. “This is actually a problem associated with the Sinovac vaccine.”
Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates were the first two countries to approve the Sinopharm shot, even before late-stage clinical trial data was released. Since then, there have been extensive reports of vaccinated people falling ill in both countries. In a statement, the Bahraini government’s media office said the kingdom’s vaccine rollout had been “efficient and successful to date.”
Still, last month officials from Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates announced that they would offer a third booster shot. The choices: Pfizer or more Sinopharm.
Reporting was contributed by Khaliun Bayartsogt, Andrea Kannapell, Ben Hubbard, Asmaa al-Omar and Muktita Suhartono. Elsie Chen and Claire Fu contributed research.
I want to end this week by showing you two Covid-19 charts. They contain the same message: The pandemic is in retreat.
received at least one vaccine shot, and the share is growing by about two percentage points per week. Among unvaccinated people, a substantial number have already had Covid and therefore have some natural immunity. “The virus is running out of places to be communicable,” Andy Slavitt, one of President Biden’s top Covid advisers, told me.
noted. For the first time since March 5 of last year, San Francisco General Hospital yesterday had no Covid patients — “a truly momentous day,” Dr. Vivek Jain said.
There are still important caveats. Covid remains especially dangerous in communities with low vaccination rates, as Slavitt noted, including much of the Southeast; these communities may suffer through future outbreaks. And about 600 Americans continue to die from the disease every day.
But the sharp decline in cases over the past month virtually guarantees that deaths will fall over the next month. The pandemic appears to be in an exponential-decay phase, as this helpful Times essay by Zoë McLaren explains. “Every case of Covid-19 that is prevented cuts off transmission chains, which prevents many more cases down the line,” she writes.
This isn’t merely a theoretical prediction. In Britain, one of the few countries to have given a shot to a greater share of the population than the U.S., deaths are down more than 99 percent from their peak.
down 23 percent from their peak in late April. In India, caseloads have been falling rapidly for almost two weeks.
The rising number of vaccinations also helps; it has exceeded 1.5 billion, which means that more than 10 percent of the world’s population — and maybe closer to 15 percent — has received at least one shot. (A new outlier: Mongolia has secured enough shots to vaccinate all of its adults, thanks to deals with neighboring Russia and China.) Natural immunity, from past infections, may also be slowing the spread in many places, and the virus’s seasonal cycles may play a role, too.
Most countries remain more vulnerable than the U.S. because of their lower vaccination rates. In Africa, a tiny share of people have received a shot, and the numbers are only modestly higher in much of Latin America, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
The vaccines are how this pandemic ends. That point is coming nearer in the United States and a few other affluent countries, but it remains distant in much of the world. Accelerating the global manufacturing and distribution of vaccines is the only sure way to avoid many more preventable deaths this year. (The Times editorial board, The Economist and National Review have each recently laid out arguments for how to do so.)
“Unless vaccine supplies reach poorer countries, the tragic scenes now unfolding in India risk being repeated elsewhere,” The Economist’s editors wrote. “Millions more will die.”
More on the virus:
Some Americans are struggling to make sense of — and pay — exorbitant and confusing bills, The Times’s Sarah Kliff reports.
A data idea, from Matthew Springer of the University of California, San Francisco: States should report Covid deaths and hospitalizations by vaccination status to highlight the value of the shots.
Virus resources: Look up the pace of vaccinations in your state.
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disqualified Belarus over lyrics that seemed to endorse a crackdown on antigovernment protests. In 2009, Georgia withdrew over a song about Vladimir Putin.
The Netherlands, which won the contest in 2019, is hosting the event tomorrow in an arena that will allow 3,500 audience members. Many of this year’s contestants qualified for Eurovision last year, though the show was canceled. While they’re getting another chance at performing this year, they’re singing different songs than they had planned in 2020.
The Guardian has a roundup of this year’s entries, including Ukrainian folk-techno and an Azerbaijani ode to a wartime spy. — Claire Moses, a Morning writer
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At a time when most countries are scrambling for coronavirus vaccines, Mongolia already has enough to fully vaccinate more than half its citizens, in large part thanks to deals with both China and Russia.
Officials are so confident about the nation’s vaccine riches that they are promising citizens a “Covid-free summer.”
Mongolia’s success in procuring so many doses within months is a big victory for a low-income, developing nation. Many poor countries have been waiting in line for shots, hoping for the best. But Mongolia, using its status as a small geopolitical player between Russia and China, was able to snap up doses at a clip similar to that of much wealthier countries.
Mongolia has a population not much bigger than Chicago’s. The small democratic nation is used to living in the shadows of Russia and China, which often treat it as a geopolitical pawn.
during a pandemic, being a small nation sandwiched between two vaccine makers with global ambitions can have advantages.
“It speaks to the Mongolian ability to play to the two great powers and maximize their benefits even while they are on this tightrope between these two countries,” said Theresa Fallon, director of the Center for Russia Europe Asia Studies in Brussels.
It is also a win for China and Russia, which have extensive resource interests in Mongolia and ambitions to appear to play a role in ending the pandemic, even when much of the world has expressed deep skepticism over their homegrown vaccines.
has extended the period of time the Pfizer-BionNTech vaccine can be refrigerated. The agency now says undiluted and thawed vaccines can be stored for up to 30 days, rather than up to five, as before. The European Medicines Agency announced a similar recommendation earlier in the week.
Prince William, the second in line to the throne of Britain, said on Thursday that he had received his first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. He shared a photo on social media of the injection at the Science Museum in London on Tuesday, thanking everyone involved in the country’s vaccination program. The prince is 38, part of an age group that became eligible to book inoculations last week. Queen Elizabeth II, his grandmother, was vaccinated in January and his father, Prince Charles, received a first dose in February.
The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, signed a contract for an additional 1.8 billion doses of BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine to be delivered between December 2021 and 2023, the commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen, announced Thursday. The deal will allow member countries to buy 900 million doses, including booster shots to prolong immunity, as well as possible new vaccines targeting emerging variants of the coronavirus, with an option to purchase additional 900 million in coming years.
Anna Schaverien, Monika Pronczuk and Kaly Soto contributed reporting.
Mongolia, a country of grassy hills, vast deserts and endless skies, has a population not much bigger than Chicago’s. The small democratic nation is used to living in the shadow of its powerful neighbors, Russia and China.
But during a pandemic, being a small nation sandwiched between two vaccine makers with global ambitions can have advantages.
At a time when most countries are scrambling for coronavirus vaccines, Mongolia now has enough to fully vaccinate its entire adult population, in large part thanks to deals with both China and Russia. Officials are so confident about the nation’s vaccine riches that they are promising citizens a “Covid-free summer.”
Mongolia’s success in procuring the vaccines in the span of a few months is a big victory for a low-income, developing nation. Many poor countries have been waiting in line for shots, hoping for the best. But Mongolia, using its status as a small geopolitical player between Russia and China, was able to snap up doses at a clip similar to that of much wealthier countries.
deep skepticism over their homegrown vaccines.
Mongolia is a buffer between eastern Russia, which is resource rich and mostly unpopulated, and China, which is crowded and hungry for resources. While Russia and China are often aligned on the global stage, they have a history of conflict and are wary of each others’ interests in Mongolia. Those suspicions can be seen in their vaccine diplomacy.
arrived this week. Mongolia’s most recent agreement with China’s Sinopharm Group, which is state-owned, was made days before the company received emergency authorization from the World Health Organization.
Mongolia was late to the global clamber for Covid-19 vaccines. For nearly a year officials boasted that there were no local cases. Then came an outbreak in November. Two months later, political crisis precipitated by the mishandling of the virus led to the sudden resignation of the prime minister. The prospect of continued coronavirus restrictions threatened to throw the country into further political turmoil.
The new prime minister, Oyun-Erdene Luvsannamsrai, pledged to restart the economy, which had suffered from lockdowns and border closures, particularly in the south, where Mongolian truck drivers ferry coal across the border to China’s steel mills. But these plans were complicated by surging cases, with the daily count going from hundreds a day to thousands.
“We were quite desperate,” said Bolormaa Enkhbat, an economic and development policy adviser to Mr. Luvsannamsrai.
Vero Cell vaccine. Soon after, China donated 300,000 doses of its Sinopharm vaccine to Mongolia, citing a “profound traditional friendship” as motivation.
Opening up more of the border between China and Mongolia was also a part of the vaccine discussions, Chinese and Mongolian officials said in Chinese state media. Mongolia needs China to buy its coal — exports to the country make up nearly a quarter of Mongolia’s annual economic growth. The revenues helped to pad Mongolia’s budget by a quarter last year.
After a month of back and forth, the Mongolian government struck a deal in March with Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute, too, for one million doses of the Sputnik vaccine. Days later, Mongolia finalized an agreement to buy 330,000 additional doses of the Sinopharm vaccine.
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital, 97 percent of the adult population has received a first dose and more than half are fully vaccinated, according to government statistics. Across the country, more than three quarters of Mongolians have already received one shot.
China has shut its border and stopped purchasing Mongolian coal.
Mongolians have also expressed a preference for Russia’s Sputnik vaccine. To get the population to take the Sinopharm shot, the government has offered each citizen 50,000 tugriks — about $18 — to get fully vaccinated. The average monthly salary in 2020 was $460.
The terms and pricing of the Sinopharm and Sputnik deals were not made public, and Mongolia’s foreign ministry declined to comment on pricing. Representatives for the Gamaleya Research Institute and Sinopharm did not respond to requests for comment.
While some global health experts have questioned whether Sinopharm will be able to continue to deliver on its commitments overseas, it has delivered all of the doses Mongolia ordered. China has said it can make as many as five billion doses by the end of the year, though officials have warned that the country is struggling to make enough shots for its citizens.
a third booster shot sooner than expected.
China, for its part, may be playing a long game, said Julian Dierkes, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia who specializes in Mongolian politics. Though many Mongolians may still not trust China, the Mongolian government will remember how it made its vaccines available at a critical moment.
“We could coin a phrase here: ‘The opportunity of smallness,’” he said.