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Europe's week: Vaccine ups and downs, 'Sofagate' and Ukraine conflict

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By Euronews
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There was good and bad news on the vaccine front in Brussels this week
There was good and bad news on the vaccine front in Brussels this week   -   Copyright  Credit: AP
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It was some good and bad news for European vaccinations this week.

On Wednesday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced Pfizer/BioNTech would be providing an extra 50 million COVID-19 vaccines by the end of June, a much-needed boost after weeks of damaging reports about the AstraZeneca jab and its links to rare blood clots.

"This will substantially help consolidate the rollout of our vaccination campaigns. I want to thank BioNTech-Pfizer," she told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday.

"It has proven to be a reliable partner. It has delivered on its commitments and it is responsive to our needs."

But Johnson & Johnson put a spanner in the works, announcing it would be delaying the rollout of its vaccine in Europe due to potential blood clots.

And despite the advice of the European Medicines Agency that the benefits outweigh the risks of the Anglo-Swedish company's jab, Denmark decided to completely axe the vaccine from its portfolio. Norway's health institute, meanwhile, recommended doing the same.

'Sofagate' continues

Things didn't get much better either for von der Leyen on the "Sofagate" front - the diplomatic incident that dominated the Brussels bubble last week.

Council President Charles Michel and her met with parliamentary leaders to explain what exactly happened in Ankara.

But the incident only served to bring up long-existing rivalries between Commission and Council officials, with the two of them arriving alone and departing alone.

Neither spoke to the media after the hearing, leaving the European commissioner for interinstitutional relations to speak on their behalf.

"I am sure that both leaders want to focus on the future, on the work ahead," Maroš Šefčovič told Euronews.

Blinken back in Brussels

US Secretary of State was back in the Belgian capital, but this time with his colleague and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Talks with NATO allies on Afghanistan was high on the agenda, with President Biden announcing on Wednesday his intention to withdraw all US troops from the war-torn country by 11 September 2021 - exactly two decades after the attacks on American soil - but the issue wasn't as pressing as the conflict and increasing tensions between Ukraine and Russia.

A large Russian military build-up at Ukraine's border has raised alarm bells in Western capitals.

Blinken met with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg to discuss the matter Wednesday, who had stern words for the Kremlin.

"This is the biggest massing of Russian troops since the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and it is part of a broader pattern of Russian aggressive actions, which raises very serious concerns," Stoltenberg said during a joint press conference with the two US secretaries.

"Allies fully support Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity and we call on Russia to de-escalate immediately. Stop its pattern of aggressive provocations."

Ian Brzezinski, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council told Euronews that Russian president Vladimir Putin is testing the West, but they should also proceed with caution.

"It's certainly a test, but it's more significant than that because the Russians have deployed a very significant capability, the most significant military build-up on the border of Ukraine since the invasion in 2014," Brzezinski said.

"And in fact, General Walters, the supreme allied commander of Europe, has said the disposition of that force is very similar to the Russian posture immediately before the invasion of Crimea. So it's not just a test that's at hand here, it's a capability that Russia could exercise on very short notice. It should be of great concern not just to Ukraine, but to the transatlantic community."