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Russia pulls ahead of China in Central Asia vaccine diplomacy

Sputnik V gains traction as working with Beijing grows politically awkward

Vials of the Sputnik V vaccine, officially called Gam-COVID-Vac, are seen on a production line in Saint Petersburg, Russia.   © Reuters

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- As Kazakhstan kicks off its coronavirus inoculation program with Russia's Sputnik V shot and Turkmenistan prepares to start a similar campaign, Russia is pulling ahead of China in the battle to win Central Asian hearts and minds through vaccine diplomacy.

Sputnik V, which was hailed as "safe and effective" by The Lancet medical journal on Tuesday, has had the biggest uptake across the region, with deliveries already made to Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Uzbekistan, which is running trials on a Chinese option, is the only country in this neighborhood engaging in large-scale vaccine cooperation with Beijing.

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