OTTAWA—Canada’s decision to return six turbines to Germany that would help supply Europe with Russian natural gas has triggered support but also widespread condemnation over whether Ottawa is circumventing sanctions imposed during the invasion of Ukraine.
On Thursday, federal cabinet ministers and diplomatic officials will face questions from the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee over whether Canada’s involvement in delivering the turbines has violated sanctions, and what precedent Canada’s actions set for punishing Russia for its deadly aggression.
Getting the turbines to Germany, which like much of Europe relies heavily on natural gas for heating, challenged Moscow’s claim that a recent reduction in the flow of Russian gas was caused by delays in turbine delivery.
Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin is falsely using the issue to justify slashing gas flows to Europe.
“We called his bluff. It is now clear that Putin is weaponizing energy flows to Europe,” Joly told reporters during a meeting with her German counterpart Annalena Baerbock.
“The world sees through his game, and that’s why we decided to make sure that we took a strong stance and a difficult decision by sending back the turbine directly to Germany.”
But how did equipment undergoing maintenance in Montreal become the centre of a multinational standoff, and what can we expect to hear during Thursday’s testimony?
Here’s what we know so far.
How did we get here?
On July 9, Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson announced that while Canada supported Europe’s efforts to end its dependency on Russian gas imports, Ottawa would be granting a “time-limited and revocable permit for Siemens Canada” allowing repaired Nord Stream 1 turbines to be returned to Germany.
The turbines power compressor stations for the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which runs beneath the Baltic Sea between Russia and Germany. The pipeline’s majority stakeholder is the Russian state-owned Gazprom, an energy giant that has been reducing gas deliveries to Europe amid sanctions imposed by Western nations following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The equipment is being serviced in a Siemens Energy facility in Montreal. One turbine has arrived in Germany, but is now caught in a spat between Germany and Russia over why the part has yet to arrive in Russia.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz — who supports Ottawa’s move — declared Wednesday that “there are no problems” blocking the turbine’s return to Russia besides missing information from Gazprom.
The Russian gas giant, meanwhile, has repeatedly said it pressed Siemens Energy for documents and clarification proving that the turbine isn’t subject to Western sanctions, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Despite both Germany and the United States backing Canada, the move has drawn swift and significant criticism from opposition parties and the Ukrainian government.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the decision “absolutely unacceptable” and the Ukrainian World Congress moved to seek a judicial review of the decision.
What’s expected Thursday?
In light of the criticism, parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee agreed to reconvene during its summer recess to study the matter. Both Wilkinson and Joly will face questions from opposition MPs on Thursday, and Alexandra Chyczij, president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, is also scheduled to appear.
Diplomatic officials will also take questions, including Yuliia Kovaliv, Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada, and her German counterpart Sabine Sparwasser.
The federal Conservatives have so far argued that Canada has set a “dangerous precedent of folding to Putin’s blackmail of Europe” and that the Liberals “should approve new pipelines and liquid natural gas terminals so that Canadian natural gas can displace Russian energy supplies in Europe.”
NDP foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson, meanwhile, said Canada has lost its “legitimacy in asking other countries to hold Russia accountable for its crimes”.
But are sanctions even working?
Canada has so far penalized more than 1,600 Russian individuals and entities since 2014, curbing hundreds of millions in exports since the beginning of this year’s Ukraine invasion. The federal government has also banned exporting, selling, supplying or shipping any supplies to Russia from its list of restricted goods and technologies, which includes a section on gas turbines and related equipment.
The combination of sanctions from Canada and other western nations has had a “catastrophic” impact on Russia’s economic outlook, a new report from Yale University experts and economists recently concluded.
The analysis noted that “Russia’s problems on the natural gas front … are ultimately unsolvable” and that “any decrease in oil and gas revenues or oil and gas export volumes would immediately put a strain on the Kremlin’s budget.”
Carleton University professor Jeff Sahadeo, an expert on Russia and Eurasian politics, said that while sanctions have hit Russia’s economy, it’s had little effect on its military decisions.
“If Europe does not get gas from this pipeline this winter, there’s going to be really severe consequences,” he said.
“I think it’s a very unique situation that shows that sanctions are sort of blunt instruments as a whole. Sometimes you have to be really careful that the …unintended consequences (aren’t) worse than what’s actually going on.”
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