G7 Live Updates: A Return to Face-to-Face Diplomacy

The pandemic forced world leaders to meet remotely for more than a year. And with much of the world still reeling from Covid, the Group of 7 is pledging to donate a billion vaccine doses.,

LiveUpdated June 11, 2021, 11:29 a.m. ETJune 11, 2021, 11:29 a.m. ET

The pandemic forced world leaders to meet remotely for more than a year. And with much of the world still reeling from Covid, the Group of 7 is pledging to donate a billion vaccine doses.

President Biden with President Emmanuel Macron of France, center, Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy, left, and the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, in Carbis Bay, England, on Friday.
President Biden with President Emmanuel Macron of France, center, Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy, left, and the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, in Carbis Bay, England, on Friday.Credit…Ludovic Marin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

PLYMOUTH, England — Call it the much-welcomed end of Zoom diplomacy.

Four months ago, President Biden held his first work-from-home meeting with a world leader, conferring with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada in the only viable way during a pandemic: a video call from the Roosevelt room in the White House.

More Zoom calls followed: a virtual meeting of a group known as “the Quad,” which includes the president, along with the leaders of Australia, India and Japan; and then a global climate summit “hosted” by Mr. Biden but conducted “Brady Bunch” style, with leaders stacked in video squares on big screens.

But this week, all that ended.

Mr. Biden jetted across the Atlantic for an eight-day in-person round of global backslapping and private confrontations. On Thursday, he met with Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain. And on Friday he is attending the first day of a Group of 7 meeting with the leaders of the world’s richest nations, the first in-person gathering of its sort in more than 15 months. On Wednesday, he will face off with President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

“I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the importance of face-to-face diplomacy,” said Madeleine Albright, who served as secretary of state under President Bill Clinton.

“On the Zoom, you have no kind of sense of their movements and how they sit and various things that show what kind of person you are dealing with,” she said. “You can’t judge what’s going through their minds.”

For Mr. Biden, who built his career on the kind of personal interactions that are at the heart of international summits like the G7, the change is particularly sweet.

Even before he was president, Mr. Biden was a regular around the world as a senator or vice president, usually making stops at gatherings with world leaders or jetting to summits. He was a regular at the Munich Security Conference in Germany, an annual gathering of national security officials from numerous countries.

“I’ve been at the Munich Security Conference when he’s been there,” Ms. Albright recalled in an interview on Friday. “You can just tell he’s listening to them and they’re listening to him. It’s a perfect setting for him.”

That can’t be said of all presidents — or perhaps most of them. President Barack Obama disliked the endless pomp of the formal summits that he attended during his eight years in the White House, especially the substance-free moments like the “family photo,” where the world leaders stand stiffly next to one another while photographers snap their shots.

And just holding a summit in person does not guarantee good relations among the leaders, as President Donald J. Trump proved during his time in office.

His presence at global meetings, including several G7s, caused consternation and confrontation as he clashed with America’s allies. At the G7 in Quebec City in 2018, Mr. Trump refused to sign the leaders statement, called Mr. Trudeau “very dishonest and weak” and was grumpy throughout — as captured by a picture that showed him, hands crossed across his chest, with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany leaning over a table with the other European leaders standing by.

But for Mr. Biden, it is different.

Ms. Merkel, Mr. Trudeau and the other world leaders get along with Mr. Biden, even if their nations sometimes clash over issues. (Mr. Biden and Ms. Merkel disagree about the need for a Russian natural gas pipeline; Mr. Trudeau and others are not happy about the president’s stand on trade and tariffs.)

Mr. Biden appeared relaxed and happy to be in the presence of his colleagues on the world stage. As they gathered for this year’s family photo along a beachfront in the resort town of Carbis Bay, the mood was light.

“Everybody in the water,” he said — presumably joking.

G7 leaders posing for a “family photo” during their summit in Carbis Bay, England, on Friday.Credit…Pool photo by Neil Hall

The leaders of the world’s wealthiest democracies are expected to pledge one billion doses of Covid vaccines to poor and middle-income countries on Friday as part of a campaign to “vaccinate the world” by the end of 2022.

The stakes could hardly be higher.

“This is about our responsibility, our humanitarian obligation, to save as many lives as we can,” President Biden said in a speech in England on Thursday evening, before the meeting of the Group of 7 wealthy democracies. “When we see people hurting and suffering anywhere around the world, we seek to help any way we can.”

It is not just a race to save lives, restart economies and lift restrictions that continue to take an immeasurable toll on people around the globe.

Since Mr. Biden landed in Europe for the start of his first presidential trip abroad on Wednesday, he has made it clear that this is a moment when democracies must prove that they can rise to meet the world’s gravest challenges. And they must do so in a way the world can see, as autocrats and strongmen — particularly in Russia and China — promote their systems of governance as superior.

Yet the notion of “vaccine diplomacy” can easily be intertwined with “vaccine nationalism,” which the World Health Organization has warned could ultimately limit the global availability of vaccines.

When Mr. Biden announced on Thursday that the U.S. would donate of 500 million Pfizer-BioNTech doses, the president said they would be provided with “no strings attached.”

“We’re doing this to save lives, to end this pandemic,” he said. “That’s it. Period.”

But even as wealthy democracies move to step up their efforts, the scale of the challenge is enormous.

Covax, the global vaccine-sharing program, still remains underfunded and billions of doses short.

The International Monetary Fund estimates that it will cost about $50 billion to help the developing world bring the pandemic to an end. In addition to the countless lives saved, the I.M.F. says that such an investment could bring a dramatic return: $9 trillion in increased global economic growth.

While the pandemic is at the center of Friday’s G7 agenda, with the leaders of the nations meeting face to face for the first time since the coronavirus essentially put a stop to handshake diplomacy, a host of other issues are also on the table.

Finance leaders from the G7 agreed last week to back a new global minimum tax rate of at least 15 percent that companies would have to pay regardless of where they locate their headquarters.

Beyond the specific issues, the summit will be a test of how institutions created in another era to help guide the world through crises can stand up to the challenges of today.

On Thursday, Mr. Biden and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain turned to a World War II-era document to provide inspiration for a new generation of challenges, renewing the Atlantic Charter eight decades after it was signed to take into account the threats of today: from cyberattacks to nuclear, climate to public health.

The gathering of the G7 is also, in many ways, a relic of another era. It was created in the 1970s to provide economic solutions after a shock in oil supply triggered a financial crisis.

Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, said in a preview of the conference on Thursday that the “return of the United States to the global arena” would help strengthen the “rules-based system” and that the leaders of the G7 were “united and determined to protect and to promote our values.”

A nurse administering a Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, last month.
A nurse administering a Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, last month.Credit…Khasar Sandag for The New York Times

As the leaders of wealthy Western democracies step up their efforts to provide Covid-19 vaccines to the world, they are also racing to catch up with China’s moves to establish itself as a leader in the fight against the coronavirus.

Last summer, China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, heralded the promise of a Chinese-made Covid-19 vaccine as a global public good. So far, he appears to be making good on that pledge.

China now leads the world in exporting Covid-19 vaccines, cementing its bid to be a major player in global public health. The country’s vaccines have been rolled out to 95 countries, which have received more than 260 million doses, according to Bridge Consulting, a Beijing-based consultancy.

The World Health Organization recently approved the vaccines made by the Chinese companies Sinopharm and Sinovac for emergency use, giving Beijing’s reputation a further boost.

So far, China has taken a mainly country-by-country approach in doling out its vaccines. The country has given only 10 million doses to Covax, the global alliance backed by the World Health Organization to ensure that developing countries get access to affordable vaccines. But it has independently donated 22 million doses and sold 742 million doses, according to Bridge Consulting. Many of the donations were made to developing nations in Africa and Asia.

“China is picking countries that could potentially be coming back to China for more things in the future,” said Sara Davies, a professor of international relations specializing in global health diplomacy at Griffith University in Australia. “This is the start of a long-term relationship.”

But there are questions about the Chinese vaccines’ effectiveness, in particular those made by Sinopharm, a state-owned company. Countries that have vaccinated their populations widely with the Sinopharm vaccine, such as the Seychelles and Mongolia, have had new surges of the coronavirus.

The global rollout has also been dogged by delayed deliveries. China is struggling to manufacture enough doses of its two-shot vaccines to meet the needs of its 1.4 billion people and its customers abroad.

In April, Turkey’s health minister said that one reason for the country’s slow vaccination campaign was that Sinovac did not comply with a promised delivery schedule.

“This is not because of lack of production, but it is because Chinese government is using the vaccines for its own country,” the minister, Fahrettin Koca, was quoted in the Turkish press as saying.

In a regular news briefing on Thursday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman called on countries undertaking vaccine research and development to “assume their responsibility” and support Covax.

“As we all know, until recently, the U.S. has been stressing that its top priority with vaccines is its domestic rollout,” said the spokesman, Wang Wenbin. “Now that it has announced donation to Covax, we hope it will honor its commitment as soon as possible.”

Alexandra Stevenson contributed reporting, and Elsie Chen contributed research.

transcriptbars0:00/28:39-28:39

transcript

Listen to ‘The Daily’: Why Russia Is Exporting So Much Vaccine

Hosted by Sabrina Tavernise; produced by Rachelle Bonja, Rachel Quester, Alexandra Leigh Young and Leslye Davis; edited by M.J. Davis Lin and Lisa Chow; and engineered by Chris Wood. Special thanks to Sophia Kishkovsky.

Millions of doses of Russia’s pioneering coronavirus vaccine have gone abroad, strengthening the country’s influence at the expense of its people.

michael barbaro

From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is The Daily.

Today: When Russia developed a vaccine against Covid-19, it prioritized exporting it to dozens of foreign countries at the expense of its own people. Sabrina Tavernise spoke with our colleague, Andrew Kramer, about how Russia is attempting to use its vaccine to improve its strength and standing on the world stage.

[music]

It’s Monday, April 26.

sabrina tavernise

Andrew.

andrew kramer

Sabrina, hello.

sabrina tavernise

Hi. So why are we talking about Russia and vaccines?

andrew kramer

Well, this came as a surprise to I think a lot of people in 2020 when the pandemic began.

archived recording

The Russian government is saying it’s on track to approve a coronavirus vaccine in August, well ahead of other countries, including the U.S., the U.K.

andrew kramer

Russia very quickly announced that it was developing a vaccine against the coronavirus.

archived recording

The sheer speed at which Russian scientists have been able to develop this vaccine has raised a lot of eyebrows across the world.

andrew kramer

There was skepticism. There was certainly the feeling that that’s not likely to be much of a success given the disorganized state of Russian science. But by the middle of the year, they had already announced a working vaccine.

archived recording

Russia’s Sputnik vaccine is 91.4 percent effective according to the manufacturer. It’s got emergency clearance in 15 nations.

andrew kramer

If you look at the history, though, it’s less of a surprise.

sabrina tavernise

Tell me about the history, what do you mean?

andrew kramer

Well, the story really starts in the aftermath of World War I when the Soviet Union encountered quite a lot of infectious disease throughout its territory. One of the main focuses was confronting the bubonic plague. It seems like a ghost from the Middle Ages, but this was actually a serious problem in the Soviet Union in the 1920s. And the country set up what were called sanitary epidemiological stations, the equivalent of the C.D.C. in the United States. There were field stations to detect and contain infectious diseases. There was a lot of resources put into this. And by the 1930s, a Soviet effort to control infectious diseases had really focused on vaccines. And by the end of this decade, the Soviet Union was a global leader in virology and vaccine development, but it was not alone. The U.S. had also been through the Spanish flu and had been forced to develop expertise in vaccines and was making strides in this science, so that both the Soviet Union and the United States were very proficient in vaccine development.

sabrina tavernise

So these two countries were the global leaders in vaccines.

andrew kramer

That’s right. Particularly coming out of World War II, the Soviet Union and the United States were the global leaders in vaccine science. And the real concern in the late 1940s was polio.

archived recording

This year the enemy, poliomyelitis, struck with such impact and fury that it shook the entire nation.

andrew kramer

Polio was the most frightening disease around.

archived recording

It has closed the gates on normal childhood. It has swept our beaches, stilled our boats and emptied our pockets.

andrew kramer

It was the number one killer of children. And it has spread rapidly after the chaos of World War II.

archived recording

There has been no escape, no immunity, for this is epidemic.

andrew kramer

There were devastating polio outbreaks in the United States as well as in the Soviet Union. By the mid 1950s, the Soviet Union was reporting about 22,000 polio cases a year, which was about one third of the level of polio in the United States, but was still a tremendous problem and something that was very frightening to parents because it was an incurable disease and very often resulted in paralysis and sometimes in death.

sabrina tavernise

So by the 1950s, both the Soviet Union and the United States were experiencing really serious polio outbreaks. So what was the relationship between the two countries at the time?

andrew kramer

Well, it was complicated.

archived recording

Looking at Russia, we might see it as a country to be studied. Yet we know that Russia today is regarded as a grave threat to our nation.

andrew kramer

This was the beginning of the Cold War, the two countries were at odds, really, everywhere you looked.

archived recording

Berlin, powderkeg of Europe, saw a mass demonstration of indoctrinated young Germans on mayday. And across the world in Japan, America stronghold in the Pacific, the busy commies were at it again.

andrew kramer

There was military competition in Eastern Europe and in Southeast Asia.

archived recording

This first satellite was today successfully launched in the U.S.S.R.

andrew kramer

And the space race was just getting started at this time of the 1950s.

archived recording

On every continent and in every land, the story of Sputnik 1 dominated the front pages. The Soviets had scored a scientific first. It is a challenge that President Eisenhower has said, America must meet to survive in the space age.

andrew kramer

And there really wasn’t a whole lot of cooperation at all at this point.

sabrina tavernise

So the Soviet Union and the United States are really at odds. We’re at the beginning of the Cold War. Meanwhile, polio is spreading really fast in both countries. So how do these two governments respond?

andrew kramer

So the first vaccination efforts were carried out in the United States. There was an attempt to use killed — inactivated polio. Unfortunately, there was a bad batch of this polio vaccine, which infected hundreds of children in the United States and killed some of them, and created a lot of vaccine skepticism. And also, a realization that this approach to polio vaccine may not be the best and there might be a better way using a more modern technology, which was a weakened virus. But the problem was that this would require giving a live polio virus to children. And there was nobody really in the United States who wanted to run this experiment.

sabrina tavernise

And that’s because there had been this botched experiment in which children actually died.

andrew kramer

That’s right. And it was even more frightening to give your child a live polio virus as opposed to something that had been inactivated or supposedly inactivated. So while the technology was developed in the United States, there just was no way to test this in the United States.

sabrina tavernise

What about the Soviet Union? What is it doing?

andrew kramer

Well, in the late 1950s, a Soviet delegation traveled to the United States, led by a husband and wife team of virologists, Mikhail Chumakov and Maria Voroshilova. And they visited with American scientists and asked for a sample of this new polio vaccine to bring back to the Soviet Union. Now, the American scientists sought permission. They approached the State Department and the F.B.I., which provided approval for exporting essentially a brand new medical invention to the Soviet Union. According to a study of this exchange, the Defense Department raised objections with the Soviets might use it to develop a germ warfare program. But ultimately, the decision was made that this could be provided to the scientists. There could be scientific cooperation between the two countries. And the live polio vaccine sample was carried to the Soviet Union by one account in the pocket of Mikhail Chumakov.

sabrina tavernise

In the pocket?

andrew kramer

That’s right. It was more casual perhaps than it would be done today. This was a potentially risky live virus. The Soviet scientists brought it to his laboratory for infectious disease, tested it, determined that it would probably be safe and effective. But then there was the next step that had to be taken. This had to be tested on children.

sabrina tavernise

So what does Chumakov do?

andrew kramer

So in Soviet medicine, there was a tradition that the inventor of a new technique or new medicine should try this on himself first. So he discusses this with his wife, who’s also a virologist. And they decide that they will provide the live polio vaccine to their own young children on sugar cubes.

sabrina tavernise

Wow. That’s incredible. Their own children?

andrew kramer

That’s right. And this experiment was carried out in a Moscow apartment in the late 1950s. They had their own children line up and provided them with the sugar cubes with a drop of live polio virus on them and then watch to see what would happen.

sabrina tavernise

And what did happen?

andrew kramer

Well, thankfully, nothing.

It was a safe vaccine. They did not develop polio. What they did develop was immunity to polio because the virus was weakened and this was an effective vaccine. They took their findings based on this experiment on their own children to senior officials in the Soviet government. And as a next step, they tested the vaccine on orphans in the Baltic states, in Estonia and Latvia and Lithuania. There was a large polio outbreak in this area. And this was going to be the solution to the problem. And it was a gamble that paid off. By 1959, they had begun mass vaccinations. And in 1960, they vaccinated every person in the Soviet Union between the ages of two months and 20 years old. At the time, it was the fastest mass vaccination ever carried out. And they eliminated polio.

sabrina tavernise

Wow. And what about the U.S.? Does it start using the new polio vaccine, too?

andrew kramer

So the United States authorities agreed to approve this vaccine in the United States in 1962.

archived recording

The medical officer of health set the target, 300,000 men, women and children to be vaccinated in one week. And there’s no sore arm to worry about.

andrew kramer

And begin vaccination with live polio virus in 1963.

archived recording

[INAUDIBLE] treatment, two drops of vaccine make the dose [INAUDIBLE]. (SINGING) Hi ho, hi ho, hi ho, we’ll lick that polio.

andrew kramer

This was a collaboration which stood out in the Cold War.

archived recording

Dr. Sabin recently returned from travels to Europe where his journeys took him to Soviet Russia.

andrew kramer

The countries were in competition and yet —

archived recording (albert b. sabin)

I would say that the work on live polio virus vaccine and my associations with colleagues all over the world shows the capabilities and the possibilities of international cooperation on a large scale.

andrew kramer

Somehow the scientists were cooperating in solving the most feared infectious diseases of the time.

sabrina tavernise

So Andrew, this is all really surprising to me. It’s an example of something that’s actually hopeful — a real collaboration — at a time when the Soviet Union is considered a superpower in the world. Of course, we know, decades later, that the Soviet Union falls apart.

andrew kramer

That’s right. It was a very difficult time for Russians. Incomes plummeted. The store shelves were bare. And it was also a very difficult time for Russian scientists. What were once very prestigious jobs ended up paying just kopeks or pennies. And some scientists resorted to driving taxis, for example, to make a living. Also, abroad Russia’s international standing collapsed. The country was seen as a basket case. It was no longer one of the centers of power in the world. It was a recipient of international aid. And nonetheless, Russian scientists had a chip on their shoulder. They felt that they could achieve great things if they had resources. And Russia continue to be strong in science, and virology was one of those areas.

sabrina tavernise

That’s interesting. So these Soviet scientists and then later Russian scientists, they’re still developing vaccines? They keep going?

andrew kramer

They do. And they come out with announcements that nobody much believes that they’ve made progress on AIDS, for example. But then more recently, they developed a vaccine against MERS, which is very similar to the Covid-19. So when the coronavirus arrives, they’re ready to prove themselves to the world.

michael barbaro

We’ll be right back.

[music]sabrina tavernise

So Andrew, it’s 2020, and the coronavirus hits. Set the stage for us between the U.S. and Russia leading up to that.

andrew kramer

The relationship has gone dismally. Russia’s tried in various ways to regain influence in the world. And this has led to conflict with the United States. The relationship really worsened in 2014 when Russia intervene militarily in Ukraine. In 2016, Russia interfered in the U.S. elections in the United States. And there’s also been crackdowns at home against dissidents, in particular against the movement of Alexei Navalny. The United States has responded to these moves by Russia with sanctions. And the relationship is bad now. It’s really at the worst level that it’s been since the Cold War.

sabrina tavernise

So it seems pretty safe to assume that despite Russia’s history with vaccines, cooperation between the U.S. and Russia is probably pretty much out of the question, right?

andrew kramer

Right. There’s no question of collaboration now. The Russians begin a rush to develop a Covid vaccine as does the Western world and China. And the Russians fall back on these research institutes that have existed in their country for decades and begin developing a domestic Covid vaccine.

sabrina tavernise

And what does that actually look like on the ground in Russia?

andrew kramer

Well, there were a number of scientific institutes that all had vaccine ideas. And by May, an institute in Moscow seemed to be in the lead. And we learned about this because the scientist who was developing the vaccine went on television.

archived recording

[RUSSIAN SPEECH]

andrew kramer

To make the surprise announcement that he had injected himself with a test vaccine before animal trials had been completed.

sabrina tavernise

Oh, my goodness.

archived recording

[RUSSIAN SPEECH]

andrew kramer

This was, of course, a harkening back to the Russian scientific tradition of inventors trying their medicine on themselves first. But it was the first of several bold announcements by the Russians in the development of the vaccine that they eventually named Sputnik V.

sabrina tavernise

Sputnik, like the satellite?

andrew kramer

That’s right. The idea of the name was that this was a surprise to the Western world. The Sputnik satellite really indicated Russia’s supremacy in science in the 1950s. And it was way ahead of the United States in the space race. The Russians said, quite explicitly, that they viewed the vaccine in the same terms. That just as the Western world had heard the beeps of the radio of the Sputnik satellites circling the Earth, and that these beeps had indicated Russia was in the lead, they felt that their vaccine would be named Sputnik to indicate that it was in fact ahead of their vaccines.

sabrina tavernise

So it was a very intentional naming, a kind of glory days reference.

andrew kramer

Exactly. And a naming that also indicated they see this as a race, as the space race. And then they took it a step further.

archived recording (vladimir putin)

[RUSSIAN SPEECH]

andrew kramer

In August, Putin went on television and announced that he had approved the vaccine for general use.

archived recording (vladimir putin)

[RUSSIAN SPEECH]

sabrina tavernise

I do remember Putin coming out and saying they had this vaccine. But I also remember thinking it’s really early because no one else did yet. Is this real?

andrew kramer

It wasn’t really real. They had not tested the vaccine in late stage trials that were necessary to prove that it’s effective and safe. This was a propaganda move. And they were going to use the vaccine as a tool of influence in the world. And they began marketing it as a vaccine for all humankind.

sabrina tavernise

All right. So we’re getting new information, new data on Russia’s vaccine.

andrew kramer

They did eventually put the vaccine through trials. And when the results were in December, they were very good.

archived recording

It seems to contradict the skepticism that surrounded the heralding the jab by President Vladimir Putin back in August.

andrew kramer

The vaccine was more than 90 percent effective, which is comparable to the vaccines under development in the United States.

archived recording

It is one of only three vaccines with efficacy of more than 90%. Sputnik V is the vaccine for the mankind.

andrew kramer

Crucially, at about the same time, the Trump administration puts a ban on exports of U.S.-made vaccines, saying that the vaccines made in America should be used first to vaccinate American citizens. And this leaves Russia standing ready with a very effective vaccine.

archived recording

Russia is throwing its hat in the ring to be a global savior.

andrew kramer

Ready to make deals around the world at a time when the U.S. is not exporting any vaccine.

archived recording

Russia, for one, says it’s ready to send the E.U. 100 million doses of its Sputnik vaccine.

andrew kramer

The Russians don’t waste any time.

archived recording

Sputnik V’s global uptake is on the rise.

andrew kramer

They immediately start making export arrangements.

archived recording

Countries right now lining up for supplies of Sputnik V —

andrew kramer

Specifically intended to undermine U.S. interest and European Union interests. And it really is setting itself up as this vaccine supplier to the bad boys club.

sabrina tavernise

What does that mean the bad boys club? Who is that?

andrew kramer

Well, these are countries that are at odds with the West and which Russia has sidled up to perhaps for that reason. It markets the vaccine to Cuba, to Iran, to Syria, to parts of North Africa. Russia has friendly relations with Venezuela, with Belarus. So there are a collection of countries loosely aligned with Russia. And these are relationships which Russia would like to deepen and strengthen. There are other factors at play here as well. Russia is using the vaccine to win influence in battleground countries, countries that are wavering between Russia and the West, such as Ukraine, or Hungary, for example. There’s a very strong P.R. element to vaccine diplomacy. It really flips the narrative about Russia. It’s no longer a discussion of suppressing dissidents at home or massing military forces on a border with a neighbor, for example. This is a discussion about saving lives, providing medicine that’s in great demand today.

sabrina tavernise

What’s an example, Andrew, of how one of these deals works on the ground?

andrew kramer

One of the first countries that the Russians talked to was Brazil. Brazil is an important ally of the United States. It’s a major economic power in Latin America. And it was also an early target of Russian vaccine diplomacy. The U.S., we learned in January from documents released by the U.S. government, was working behind the scenes to prevent this from happening. And the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services disclosed that an American diplomat in Brazil had been arguing that the Brazilian government should reject the Russian vaccine because the vaccine was, in fact, seen as an agent of influence for the Russians in this important country. Now that was not a success. Brazil ultimately went with Russia for these supplies. And it illustrates well the weak hand that the United States has in vaccine diplomacy. On the ground, in situations like this, the United States has nothing to offer. The U.S. official could argue that Brazil should not take this lifesaving medicine from Russia, but they weren’t able to offer anything from the United States.

sabrina tavernise

All right. I mean, U.S. sounds like it doesn’t really have a card to play, right? I mean, on what basis should Brazil not accept the Russian vaccine? There’s effectively no alternative.

andrew kramer

Exactly. It showed the impotence of the United States in this contest that’s going on around the world over supply of vaccines. And Russia has gone from success to success in its vaccine diplomacy. For example, the European Union has been the target of a very effective vaccine diplomacy over the past several months. Two countries, Slovakia and Hungary, agreed to import Sputnik V vaccine. And this created a lot of discord within the European Union because the bloc had initially agreed to distribute vaccines equitably among its members. And they were breaking ranks with that policy. Also, the vaccine was not approved by European regulators. So this was creating discord within the European Union. And creating discord within the European Union has been a longtime goal of Russian diplomacy. And in this case, it was aided with the use of the vaccine. But it’s gone beyond that as well. The Russians have signed contracts with one region in Italy and with the state of Bavaria in Germany. So they’re winning customers now in the very heart of Europe.

sabrina tavernise

Yeah, these are core bloc states of the E.U.

andrew kramer

That’s right. And in countries that have been accepting the Russian vaccine, polls show that people trust it more than even vaccines made in the United States. For example, in Argentina and Mexico, polls have shown that more people trust the Russian made Sputnik V vaccine than American-made vaccines.

sabrina tavernise

That’s surprising.

andrew kramer

It is. And it’s been quite a benefit to Russia’s image around the world. Wherever we look in Russia’s vaccine diplomacy, it’s been quite effective politically and in terms of P.R. at the cost of, in fact, very small shipments of vaccine.

sabrina tavernise

What do you mean?

andrew kramer

For example, only tens of thousands of doses were sent to Bolivia in Latin America.

archived recording

Bolivian President Luis Arce has signed a contract for the supply of the Sputnik V vaccine to fight Covid-19.

andrew kramer

And yet the president of the country came to the airport to meet the airplane that delivered them.

archived recording

[NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

andrew kramer

Sometimes very small numbers of doses are sent to places that will seem to have a high impact in terms of media coverage.

archived recording

While the rest of Europe is still struggling with the vaccination campaign, the tiny Republic of San Marino is on its way to immunize most of its citizens.

andrew kramer

For example, in a staunch, Russia vaccinated the entire nation of San Marino with a population of 7,000 people.

archived recording

Thanks also to the use of Sputnik V, Russia’s vaccine.

andrew kramer

So the numbers have been quite small, but they’ve had a very large impact politically.

sabrina tavernise

So Andrew, in a way, this is making me think of how Russia has been acting ever since the Soviet Union collapsed. I mean, trying again and again on the world stage to prove it is still powerful, to prove it is still important. And these vaccines are a way to show that.

andrew kramer

It also shows it in a different way than what we usually think of Russia, when we think of Russia asserting its influence. Typically, Russia is seen as a villain when it sends troops into a neighboring country like Ukraine or assassins abroad to target enemies. But in the story of vaccines, Russia has really been a savior. It’s been able to present itself as a country that’s helping the rest of the world. And in this way, it’s a form of influence which is very difficult for the West to counter, for the West to stand up against. And when the pandemic is over, it’s likely that Russia will emerge because of this vaccine diplomacy, as a country with more friends and allies than it would have had had it not pursued this course.

sabrina tavernise

Thank you, Andrew.

andrew kramer

Thank you very much.

michael barbaro

So far, Russia has manufactured about 20 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine. Of those, it has exported about four million doses or one fifth to foreign countries instead of using them on Russians. As of this past weekend, Russia has fully vaccinated just 5 percent of its people. By comparison, the United States has fully vaccinated 27 percent.

[music]

We’ll be right back.

Here’s what else you need to know today. Over the weekend, President Biden recognized the mass killings of Armenians more than a century ago as a genocide, something never before done by an American president for fear of offending Turkey, which denies that the killings amounted to a genocide. The killings of Armenians occurred at the end of World War I during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, which later became Turkey. Ottoman Turks feared that Armenians would become allies with Russia, an enemy of the Ottoman Turks, and began forced deportations and killings of Armenians to avoid that possibility. In the end, as many as 1.5 million Armenians were killed. In response to Biden’s declaration, Turkey’s government vowed to defend itself against what it called “a lie.” Today’s episode was produced by Rachelle Bonja, Rachel Quester, Alexandra Leigh Young and Leslye Davis. It was edited by M.J. Davis Lin and Lisa Chow and engineered by Chris Wood. Special thanks to Sophia Kishkovsky.

That’s it for The Daily. I’m Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow.

Floating balloons caricaturing President Biden and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain in the harbor of Falmouth, England, on Friday.
Floating balloons caricaturing President Biden and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain in the harbor of Falmouth, England, on Friday.Credit…Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press

FALMOUTH, England — It’s no diaper-clad Donald J. Trump, but this year’s Group of 7 meeting has its own inflatable gag: a floating blimp that caricatures President Biden and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, holding hands and waving, each wearing swim trunks in the design of their national flags.

A group of advocacy groups behind the blimp took reporters and photographers out on a morning cruise on Friday in the mist and drizzle — known in Cornwall as “mizzle” — to see its formal launch off the coast of a Cornish port where the world’s news media is encamped to cover the summit.

While the press bobbed in the waves, taking photos of Biden and Boris against the backdrop of a mist-shrouded castle, representatives of the groups explained their dead-serious agenda for world leaders. They urged them to speed up donations of coronavirus vaccines, enact tougher measures to curb climate change and at last tackle income and gender inequality.

As they spoke, a few rays of sunshine poked through the fog. That prompted jokey references to hopes that “the mist would lift” from the leaders as the activists did their best to entertain their rain-spattered guests.

“We try to organize optimism to have impact,” said Jamie Drummond, who founded the advocacy group One with Bono, the leader singer of U2. “But there are many reasons to be very angry as well. Not enough is being done.”

Mustering anger is not easy when Covid restrictions make it impossible to gather crowds of protesters, security cordons keep them 25 miles from where the leaders are staying, and one of the antagonists at such gatherings, Mr. Trump, has been replaced by the more emollient Mr. Biden.

When the Trump baby balloon first took flight in July 2018 in London, during a visit by the president, the police estimated that more than 100,000 demonstrators were on hand. The Biden-Boris blimp will float in Falmouth’s harbor, where it can be viewed by the press and the scattered tourists left in an otherwise locked-down port.

Mr. Drummond insisted that a new United States president had not taken the wind out of the advocacy efforts. There was no in-person Group of 7 last year because of the pandemic, he said, and the combination of a health and climate crisis lend this gathering as much urgency as any previous summit.

“There are hard facts and data — about Covid, about climate, about ecology and about injustice — which are not being paid attention to,” Mr. Drummond said. “And the response from leaders is not commensurate with these crises.”

Still, the image of Mr. Biden and Mr. Johnson waving jauntily to those on shore felt less like a cry for help than a reminder of the extravagant display of unity by the two leaders when they first met the previous day.

The advocacy groups will strike a more somber note on Friday evening, when they plan to hold two vigils, in Falmouth and Carbis Bay, to honor the estimated 3.7 million people who have died of Covid worldwide.

President Biden with his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain and his wife, Carrie Johnson, in Cornwall, England, on Thursday.
President Biden with his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain and his wife, Carrie Johnson, in Cornwall, England, on Thursday.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Few images captured the rupture in trans-Atlantic relations better than that of President Donald J. Trump in 2018, arms folded across his chest as he resisted Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and other Group of 7 leaders in their doomed effort to salvage their summit meeting in Canada.

As the same countries’ leaders reconvene in Cornwall, England, on Friday, President Biden is aiming reverse the body language, replacing impasse with embrace. But beneath the imagery, it is not clear how much more open the United States will be to give-and-take with Europe than it was under Mr. Trump.

The trans-Atlantic partnership has always been less reciprocal than its champions like to pretend — a marriage in which one partner, the United States, carried the nuclear umbrella. Now, with China replacing the Soviet Union as America’s archrival, the two sides are less united than they were during the Cold War, a geopolitical shift that lays bare longstanding stresses.

So a lingering question looms over Friday’s G7 summit in England: Will this show of solidarity be more than a diplomatic pantomime — reassuring to Europeans traumatized by Mr. Trump’s “America First” policy but bound to disappoint them when they realize that the United States under Mr. Biden is still going its own way?

“America’s foreign policy hasn’t fundamentally changed,” said Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the British Parliament. “It’s more cooperative and inclusive, but substantially it’s the same.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whose ancestor was sent to Australia from Britain after being convicted of stealing “five pound and a half-weight of yarn” in 1786.Credit…Mick Tsikas/EPA, via Shutterstock

More than two centuries after his ancestor was cast out of Cornwall for stealing and sent to Australia with hundreds of other convicts, Scott Morrison returned to the area on Friday as prime minister of Australia.

“It’s a long time since one of my family was in Cornwall,” Mr. Morrison said in a speech in Perth on Wednesday before traveling to meet with other world leaders at the Group of 7 conference.

While the issues of the day were at the center of his agenda as an invited guest at the summit, it was also an unusual homecoming of sorts.

The main location of the gathering, Carbis Bay, is about 60 miles from the market in Launceston where his ancestor, William Roberts, stole “five pound and a half-weight of yarn” in 1786, according to the Australian Associated Press.

Mr. Morrison said Mr. Roberts was his “fifth great-grandfather.”

“He stole some yarn in Cornwall, and the rest is history,” Mr. Morrison said. “More than 200 years of it, so it’ll be interesting to be going back there.”

Mr. Roberts was part of a group of over 1,400 people who set sail in 11 ships from Portsmouth, England on May 13, 1787 — part of the infamous “First Fleet” — transporting military leaders, sailors and convicts across the world.

“A wide variety of people made up this legendary ‘First Fleet,'” according to the National Geographic Society. “Military and government officials, along with their wives and children, led the group. Sailors, cooks, masons and other workers hoped to establish new lives in the new colony.”

The First Fleet included more than 700 convicts — the start of what would be more than 80 years of Britain’s shipping off convicts to serve out their sentences in New South Wales, now a state in southeastern Australia. Britain sent more than 160,000 convicts to Australia in that time, and it is estimated that about 20 percent of present-day Australians can trace their ancestry to them.

Mr. Morrison is not the first Australian leader to trace his roots back to a convict.

Genealogists traced former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s family line to an English woman who barely escaped the hangman’s noose. In 1788, Mary Wade — Mr. Rudd’s paternal fifth-great-grandmother — was convicted at the Old Bailey in London of having robbed an 8-year-old girl of her dress and underwear in a bathroom.

Ms. Wade is said to have declared at her trial: “I was in a good mind to have chucked her down” the toilet. “I wish I had done so.”

She was sentenced “to be hanged by the neck til she be dead,” but her sentence was commuted and she was shipped off to Australia.

The agreement reached by Group of 7 finance ministers would impose an additional tax on some of the largest multinational companies.
The agreement reached by Group of 7 finance ministers would impose an additional tax on some of the largest multinational companies.Credit…Pool photo by Henry Nicholls

When the top economic officials from the world’s advanced economies, in the days leading up to the Group of 7 summit, unveiled a broad agreement that aims to stop large multinational companies from seeking out tax havens and force them to pay more of their income to governments, it was a breakthrough in a yearslong efforts to overhaul international tax laws.

A new global minimum tax rate at least 15 percent, which finance leaders from the Group of 7 countries agreed to back, would apply to companies regardless of where they locate their headquarters.

The agreement would also impose an additional tax on some of the largest multinational companies, potentially forcing technology giants like Amazon, Facebook and Google as well as other big global businesses to pay taxes to countries based on where their goods or services are sold, regardless of whether they have a physical presence in that nation.

The pact could reshape global commerce and solidify public finances that have been eroded after more than a year of combating the pandemic.

And huge sums of money are at stake. A report this month from the E.U. Tax Observatory estimated that a 15 percent minimum tax would yield an additional 48 billion euros, or $58 billion, a year. The Biden administration projected in its budget last month that the new global minimum tax system could help bring in $500 billion in tax revenue over a decade to the United States.

While the agreement is a major step forward, many challenges remain. Next month, the Group of 7 countries must sell the concept to finance ministers from the broader Group of 20 nations. If that is successful, officials hope that a final deal can be signed in October.

Garnering wider support will not be easy. Ireland, which has a tax rate of 12.5 percent, argues that a global minimum tax would be disruptive to the country’s economic model. Some major countries such as China are considered unlikely to buy in.

And the biggest obstacle come from the United States. The Biden administration must win approval from a narrowly divided Congress to make changes to the tax code.

The installation is made up of 12 tons of scrap metal and electronic waste materials.
The installation is made up of 12 tons of scrap metal and electronic waste materials.Credit…Adrian Dennis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A sculpture recreating the faces of Group of 7 leaders in a metallic tangle of circuit boards, laptop covers and cast-off cellphone pieces stands in stark contrast to the idyllic Cornish beach they overlook on the southwestern English coast.

The installation — a garbage homage to Mount Rushmore’s carved granite heads that was erected this week before the gathering nearby of the heads of state it depicts — is intended to highlight the environmental damage caused by the disposal of electronic waste.

Discussions around climate change are on the agenda, and environmental activists staged demonstrations across Britain in the lead up to the event to call for urgent and drastic change.

The art installation, dubbed “Mount Recylemore” by its creators, depicts Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan, President Emmanuel Macron of France, Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, and President Biden. It stands on Sandy Acres in Cornwall near Carbis Bay, where the summit is being held starting on Friday.

According to musicMagpie, an online retailer that resells electronics and was involved in the project, the installation was intended to “highlight the growing threat e-waste poses to the environment and the importance of taking action now.”

Joe Rush, an artist and founder of the Mutoid Waste Company that stages industrial performance art, and Alex Wreckage, a sculptor, collaborated with the company on the art installation, which is made up of 12 tons of scrap metal and electronic waste materials from computers, phones and other technology.

World leaders at a Group of 7 summit in Biarritz, France, in August 2019, the last time the gathering was held in person.
World leaders at a Group of 7 summit in Biarritz, France, in August 2019, the last time the gathering was held in person.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

For three days, beginning Friday, some of the world’s most powerful leaders are descending on a small Cornish village for a series of meetings as part of the Group of 7 summit, which brings together the heads of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.

So what exactly is the G7, and why does it matter?

The nations belonging to the club are the world’s wealthiest large democracies, close allies and major trading partners that account for about half of the global economy.

With broadly similar views on trade, political pluralism, security and human rights, they can — when they agree — wield enormous collective influence. Their heads of government meet, along with representatives of the European Union, to discuss economic issues and major international policies.

Those attending this years’ gathering include leaders from the G7 member countries — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States — plus the European Union, guests Australia, South Africa and South Korea, along with India via video link.

The group, whose origins go back to the 1973 oil crisis, grew out of an informal gathering of finance ministers from Britain, the United States, France, Japan and what was then West Germany — initially known as the Big Five — as they tried to agree on a way forward.

Since the 1970s, the group and its later additional members have met dozens of times to work on major global issues that affect the international economy, security, trade, equality and climate change. In 2015, the summit paved the way for the Paris agreement to limit global emissions, which was decided later that year.

For a time, the group had eight members — remember the G8? — but Russia, always something of an outlier, was kicked out in 2014 amid international condemnation of President Vladimir V. Putin’s annexation of Crimea. Last year, President Donald J. Trump said he believed Russia should be reinstated.

Atop the agenda this year will be the coronavirus pandemic and its effects on the global economy, with a focus on worldwide recovery and vaccination.

This summit, hosted by Britain, which currently holds the group’s presidency, is the 47th of its kind and will continue through Sunday. Last year’s summit was canceled because of the pandemic, making this gathering the first in-person G7 Leaders’ Summit in almost two years. The last was in August 2019 in Biarritz, France.

President Biden with Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain before their meeting on Thursday.
President Biden with Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain before their meeting on Thursday.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Biden and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain signed a new version of the 80-year-old Atlantic Charter on Thursday, using their first meeting to redefine the Western alliance and accentuate what they said was a growing divide between battered democracies and their autocratic rivals, led by Russia and China.

The two leaders unveiled the new charter as they sought to focus the world’s attention on emerging threats from cyber attacks, the Covid-19 pandemic that has upended the global economy, and climate change, using language about reinforcing NATO and international institutions that Mr. Biden hoped would make clear that the Trump era of America First was over.

The new charter, a 604-word declaration, was an effort to stake out a grand vision for global relationships in the 21st century, just as the original, first drafted by Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt, was a declaration of a Western commitment to democracy and territorial integrity just months before the United States entered World War II.

“It was a statement of first principles, a promise that the United Kingdom and the United States would meet the challenges of their age and that we’d meet it together,” Mr. Biden said after his private meeting with Mr. Johnson. “Today, we build on that commitment, with a revitalized Atlantic Charter, updated to reaffirm that promise while speaking directly to the key challenges of this century.”

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia “doesn’t necessarily want a more stable or predictable relationship” with the United States, one expert said.Credit…Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

The most pressing, vexing item on President Biden’s agenda while in Europe may be managing the United States’ relationship with a disruptive Russia. He will seek support from allies to that end, but no part of the trip promises to be more fraught than the daylong meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin on June 16.

On the eve of meeting with European leaders rattled by Russia’s aggressive movement of troops along Ukraine’s borders, Mr. Biden said the world was at “an inflection point,” with democratic nations needing to stand together to combat a rising tide of autocracies.

“We have to discredit those who believe that the age of democracy is over, as some of our fellow nations believe,” he said.

Turning to Russia specifically, he pledged to “respond in a robust and meaningful way” to what he called “harmful activities” conducted by Mr. Putin.

Aboard Air Force OneDavid E. Sanger, White House and national security correspondent, breaks down the agenda for President Biden’s first overseas trip.

Russian intelligence agencies have interfered in Western elections and are widely believed to have used chemical weapons against perceived enemies on Western soil and in Russia. Russian hackers have been blamed for cyberattacks that have damaged Western economies and government agencies. Russian forces are supporting international pariahs in bloody conflicts — separatists in Ukraine and Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria.

Mr. Biden called for the meeting with Mr. Putin despite warnings from rights activists that doing so would strengthen and embolden the Russian leader, who recently said that a “new Cold War” was underway.

Mr. Putin has a powerful military and boasts of exotic new weapons systems, but experts on the dynamics between Washington and Moscow say that disruption is his true power.

“Putin doesn’t necessarily want a more stable or predictable relationship,” said Alexander Vershbow, who was United States ambassador to Russia under President George W. Bush. “The best case one can hope for is that the two leaders will argue about a lot of things but continue the dialogue.”

White House officials say that Mr. Biden has no intention of trying to reset the relationship with Russia. Having concurred with the description of Mr. Putin as a “killer” in March, Mr. Biden is cleareyed, they say, about his adversary: He regards him more as a hardened mafia boss than a national leader.

At nearly the same time Mr. Biden was delivering his remarks on Wednesday, a Russian court outlawed the organization of the jailed opposition leader Alexei A. Navalny, potentially exposing him and his supporters to criminal charges.

But Mr. Biden is more focused on Russian actions abroad than its domestic repression. He is determined to put what his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, calls “guardrails” on the relationship. That includes seeking out some measure of cooperation, starting with the future of the countries’ nuclear arsenals.

Mr. Biden’s associates say he will also convey that he has seen Mr. Putin’s bravado before and that it doesn’t faze him.

“Joe Biden is not Donald Trump,” said Thomas E. Donilon, who served as national security adviser to President Barack Obama and whose wife and brother are key aides to Mr. Biden. “You’re not going to have this inexplicable reluctance of a U.S. president to criticize a Russian president who is leading a country that is actively hostile to the United States in so many areas. You won’t have that.”

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