Tag Archives: Mostik

On Weaponizing cats and vaccines

It’s Christmas time, so it must be silly season.

Several years ago, the Moon in Alabama blog produced a long list of things that Russia and Vladimir Putin have been said to have ‘weaponized’. There are too many to mention them all, but they include such things as immigrants, robotic cockroaches, the weather, Photoshop, and language. A later updated list added items such as humour, incompetence, and giant squids. Today, we can now introduce a new member to the weaponized family: cats.

Yes, it wouldn’t be the internet without cats. Russian president Vladimir Putin no doubt likes them ‘white and fluffy‘.

‘White and fluffy’

Anyway, it turns out that cats are Russia’s latest weapon in the war for international hearts and minds. According to Michael Cole, author of an article entitled ‘December in Russia: A Special Breed of Disinformation’, the Russians have discovered that it’s ‘important to craft a likeable, if not loveable, image of yourself that people who find all that political talk rather mundane can get on board with.’ And so they’ve turned to cats.

Cole’s evidence: Russians building the bridge linking Crimea to mainland Russia adopted a cat they called ‘Mostik’ as their mascot. As Cole says:

Whether it’s meeting up with the Crimean baseball team, celebrating the New Year or hanging out with his old friends on the building site, Mostik is certainly a much cuter and cuddlier face of illegal annexation than the one we’re used to reading about on Western news sites. These days he’s rarely photographed without a trusty press pass around his neck, helping him to get all the latest inside scoops on the kind of feel-good stories that distract from some of the harsher realities of life on the occupied peninsula. No wonder Vladimir Putin was happy to let Mostik cross the completed bridge ahead of him on the day of the official opening ceremony back in May 2018.

Mostik

Cats as a ‘distraction’ from the ‘harsher realities’ of life in Crimea?? Those Russians are fiends! If only Ukraine had thought of that, we’d have been saved a lot of trouble.

Beyond Mostik, Cole can only produce one other example of the Kremlin’s supposed cat obsession – references to the unfortunate fate of Sergei Skripal’s cat, whom the British police left to die of dehydration and starvation after its owner was poisoned. Despite that, though, he concludes that, ‘cats are fast becoming Vladimir Putin’s political animals of choice.’

I’m assuming that Cole’s piece is meant to be slightly tongue in cheek. The problem is that one never knows nowadays. But definitely not joking is British journalist Sara Hurst, who drops the following bombshell in her latest article this week.

When I heard the news that AstraZeneca was going to work with Russia’s Gamaleya Centre to test combinations of the Oxford coronavirus vaccine and the Sputnik V vaccine, I was devastated. I felt betrayed by a prestigious scientific team that was supposed to be winning over the vaccine skeptics. … I have been in the Oxford trial, a joint project with AstraZeneca to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, since early June. I’ve had two doses of either the vaccine or the placebo. I was very enthusiastic to help develop a safe and effective vaccine. … But in response to the collaboration with the Russians, I have withdrawn from the trial. 

Come again, Sara. You what?? You quit the trial because the British researchers involved want to work with the Russians to produce a better vaccine? How does that make sense? Isn’t making a better vaccine something we should all want?

Not if it involves Russia, apparently. You see, Sara says that when it comes to vaccines, she ‘wanted to help create a genuine one’, and Russia’s Sputnik-V isn’t. It’s an ‘informational painkiller for the soul’, which she suspects doesn’t work. In any case, it’s wrong to take anything from Russia. There are ‘ethical issues of collaborating in any way with Putin’s murderous regime.’ ‘I am furious that instead of working to bring more of Putin’s killers to justice, some in the West apparently want to reward him,’ says Ms Hurst.

So she doesn’t like the Russian government. I’m fine with that. Many of the criticisms directed against it are entirely fair. But we’re talking about a major international health crisis here. The United Kingdom has just gone into full scale lockdown, and much of the rest of the world has blocked travellers from the UK from entering their countries. The UK needs an effective vaccine. Trying to block it is absurd.

Ms Hurst says that she doesn’t understand AstraZeneca’s decision to team up with the Russians. ‘I think they just see an opportunity to save money by perhaps giving people the Oxford vaccine after a dose of Sputnik. But I don’t really know what they’re up to,’ she says.

But she’s a journalist. It’s her job to check these things, and it’s not hard to find out the logic behind the British decision. Both the Oxford and Sputnik-V vaccines involve two injections, but the British found that if both doses were of equal strength, the vaccine was less effective. This could be because the first was in some way creating some sort of immunity to the second. And from this, researchers drew the conclusion that it might be better to use two different vectors for the two injections, i.e. first Oxford then Sputnik, or vice versa.

Will that work? I don’t know. Nor does AstraZeneca. But it’s worth a shot. Why not do some trials and see what happens? If it doesn’t help, there’s nothing lost. But if it has some positive results, then lives will be saved, and we can all return to normality a little earlier. What could possible be wrong with that?

AstraZeneca’s decision has nothing to do with ‘rewarding’ Putin. It’s a medical decision, pure and simple. And it makes a lot of sense. But no, we must not, says Sara Hurst, make the ‘mistake time and time again to trust Putin.’

I can’t remember how many times I’ve read that Russia is promoting anti-vaccination disinformation. But here we see how anti-vax propaganda is quite all right if it’s directed against Russia. As I said, it’s silly season indeed.