Minister defends return of Russian gas turbines, warns of ‘devastating’ threat to European security

Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson is defending a controversial decision by the Canadian government to return to Germany natural gas turbines for the Nord Stream One pipeline that were caught up in sanctions imposed on Russia.

Wilkinson announced Saturday that the turbines will be making their way back to Germany after the Canadian government allowed what he called a “time-limited and revocable” exemption to its current sanctions on Russia. The move came as Canada imposed new sanctions on Russian agents and entities in response to its invasion of Ukraine.

In prepared remarks before a news conference in Regina on Monday, Wilkinson said the war and the resulting geopolitical tensions have shown how vulnerable Europe is on the energy front.

“The energy security implications for Europe in particular are potentially devastating,” Wilkinson said. 

“This is not just a matter of inconvenience, or even a crunch with respect to affordability and pocketbooks. This is a fundamental threat to their ability to provide the basics for their citizens, from heat for their homes, to fuel to transport food and goods and power to sustain their industries, their jobs and their economies.”

In a statement issued on Twitter on Saturday, Wilkinson said the decision to return the turbines came after consultations with the German government and other European allies.

“Absent a supply of natural gas, the Germany economy will suffer very significant hardship and Germans themselves will be at risk of being unable to heat their homes as winter approaches,” he said in the statement.

The turbines have been in Montreal for repairs, but Siemens — the German company that manufactured them — said last month that Canadian government sanctions on Russian energy company Gazprom prevented it from returning them to Europe.

The Nord Stream One pipeline supplies natural gas to Germany from Russia. The Russian government says the pipeline is running at just 40 per cent of its capacity right now.

Wilkinson said Monday that Canada is working to find ways to supply Canadian liquid natural gas and other commodities such as hydrogen, potash and uranium to Europe. 

He said Canada can balance boosting energy exports to Europe and meeting greenhouse gas emissions targets.

“We can help our European friends in the short-term and we can achieve our ambitious and vital climate goals,” he said.

Reaction to decision mixed

The United States government welcomed Canada’s decision to release the turbines to Germany.

“In the short term, the turbine will allow Germany and other European countries to replenish their gas reserves, increasing their energy security and resiliency and countering Russia’s efforts to weaponize energy,” United States State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a media statement Monday.

But a Ukrainian-Canadian advocacy group voiced opposition.

Alexandra Chyczij, president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, said returning the turbines amounts to a “decision to bow to Russian blackmail.”

“This decision will ensure that the coffers of the Russian state budget will continue to be filled with European money which will be used to finance Russia’s genocide against the Ukrainian people,” Chyczij said in a media statement Sunday. 

In another media statement, also issued Sunday, Ukraine’s foreign affairs and energy ministries expressed “deep disappointment” in Canada’s decision.

“This dangerous precedent violates international solidarity, goes against the principle of the rule of law and will have only one consequence: it will strengthen Moscow’s sense of impunity,” said the statement.

WATCH | Canada returns key turbine to Germany for Russian pipeline: 

Ottawa’s plan to return Russian pipeline turbines to Germany draws mixed reactions

Ottawa has drawn both anger and relief for deciding to return six turbines used for the Nord Stream 1 pipeline that connects Germany and Russia.

The Conservative Party also criticized the move, calling on the government to replace Russian energy in Europe with Canadian resources.

“Instead of circumventing the global sanctions package meant to punish Putin, the Liberal government should approve new pipelines and liquid natural gas terminals so that Canadian natural gas can displace Russian energy supplies in Europe,” Conservative MPs Michael Chong, James Bexan and Pierre Paul-Hus said in a statement Sunday.

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