Biotech, Biodefense and COVID-19 Vaccines in Russia’s National Security State

39 Pages Posted: 19 Nov 2021

See all articles by Marek Naczyk

Marek Naczyk

Sciences Po Paris - Centre d’études européennes; Sciences Po Paris - LIEPP

Date Written: October 5, 2021


Russian authorities’ decision to grant the Sputnik V vaccine emergency approval in August 2020 sent shock waves across the scientific and policy-making communities. How did Russia acquire the capacity to develop and produce a vaccine against SARS-Cov-2 so quickly? Based on a case study of the institutions and firms involved in the development and production of Sputnik V, I argue that this capacity results from efforts by Russia’s national security state to turn a Cold War advantage in the development of biological weapons into a contemporary public health advantage in vaccine and drug development. Since at least the late 2000s, the Russian state has pursued a form of security motivated statecraft aimed at supporting both the growth of handpicked domestically-owned biotechnological firms – with their growth being deemed essential to ensuring the pharmaceutical security of Russia’s population and Armed Forces – and the upgrading of state research institutes involved in Russian biodefense – i.e. in defending civilians and military troops against naturally occurring dangerous pathogens or pathogens potentially used in biological weapons. Yet contemporary Russia has also supported those specific firms and research institutes largely because these have had a pre-existing competitive advantage in the science of genetic engineering that they inherited from their involvement in the Soviet Union’s enhanced – effectively, the world’s most advanced – biological weapons program from the mid-1970s until the early 1990s in direct violation of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention.

Keywords: Biodefense, biological weapons, biotechnology, COVID-19, national security state, Russia, vaccines

Suggested Citation

Naczyk, Marek, Biotech, Biodefense and COVID-19 Vaccines in Russia’s National Security State (October 5, 2021). Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies Research Paper No. RSC 2021/75, Available at SSRN: or

Marek Naczyk (Contact Author)

Sciences Po Paris - Centre d’études européennes ( email )

27 Rue St. Guilllaume
Paris, 75007


Sciences Po Paris - LIEPP ( email )

27 rue Saint-Guillaume
Paris Cedex 07, 75337


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