March 31, 2021 - 2:07pm

Last year, the Hungarian government raised eyebrows when it moved to secure supplies of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine — thus circumventing the European Medicines Agency.

Another example of the EU’s rogue state going rogue again? Not quite. The truth is rather more disturbing and it’s this: where Viktor Orbán leads, the EU follows.

Yesterday, it emerged that Austria is in advanced negotiations with Russia to obtain a million doses of the Russian vaccine. Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian Chancellor, telephoned Vladimir Putin to get the ball rolling.

Not coincidentally, Kurz is among the EU leaders most critical of the EU’s joint procurement programme — and the fact that countries like Germany have exploited loopholes to obtain extra supplies for themselves.

Having missed the boat on that one, the Austrians are now joining the Hungarians in looking to Moscow instead of Brussels for help.

However, much of the EU establishment remains opposed to the influence of Russian and Chinese ‘vaccine diplomacy’. Angela Merkel, who’s had 16 years of dealing with Putin, is sceptical — as is her protégée, Ursula von der Leyen. Charles Michel, President of the European Council, had this to say about the matter:

We should not let ourselves be misled by China and Russia, both regimes with less desirable values than ours, as they organise highly limited but widely publicised operations to supply vaccines to others
- Charles Michel

And yet the anti-Russian resistance is crumbling. Merkel’s stance is softening and she’ll soon be gone anyway; Von der Leyen’s credibility is in tatters; and Michel isn’t exactly flavour of the month either.

Indeed, an EU-wide roll-out of the Russian and Chinese vaccines looks increasingly likely. Just look at today’s reports of a conference call between the German, French and Russian leaders to discuss the possibility. Merkel and Macron are thus following Kurz’s example who, of course, followed Orbán’s.

A key question now is whether individual EU states will wait for the European Medicines Agency to approve the Sputnik V and Sinopharm vaccines or whether they’ll jump the gun, Hungary-style.

Of course, if these treatments are safe then the propaganda coup for Putin and Xi is a price worth paying for the safety of millions of people. But make no mistake, the literal injection of Russian and Chinese diplomacy into EU veins will extend the influence of “regimes with less desirable values”.

Meanwhile Brexit Britain, supposedly the product of Russian interference, has quietly got on with the job of inoculating itself with vaccines developed in the West, with the support of western governments and produced to western standards.

If Putin did orchestrate Brexit, he clearly backed the wrong horse.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.