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Pipes at the landfall facilities of the 'Nord Stream 1' gas pipeline are pictured in Lubmin, Germany, March 8, 2022.HANNIBAL HANSCHKE/Reuters

The Ukrainian government on Sunday expressed “deep disappointment” at Canada’s decision to release Russian-owned gas turbines that had been stranded in a Montreal repair facility because of sanctions against Moscow.

Kyiv warned the move would embolden Moscow to keep using its ability to choke off Europe’s fuel supplies as a weapon.

Russia last month cited the delayed return of the turbine equipment, which Germany’s Siemens Energy had been servicing in Canada, as the reason behind its decision to reduce the flow of natural gas through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline. The pipeline, which runs from Russia to Germany, was operating at 40-per-cent capacity.

The Canadian government announced on Saturday that it would issue a special export permit for the turbines to get around sanctions Ottawa introduced after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Those measures forbid the export of certain goods and technologies to Russia, including the turbines.

Minister of Natural Resources Jonathan Wilkinson said in a statement that Ottawa’s decision was a response to requests from Germany and other European countries, which are reliant on Russian gas to replenish their fuel supplies for the winter months ahead.

The grounded turbines will be sent to Germany, whose government will then turn them over to Russia. The indirect return route could allow Canada to say it hasn’t reneged on its sanctions.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz expected to push East Coast LNG terminals in upcoming visit to Ottawa

Initially, it appeared only one turbine was at issue. Keean Nembhard, press secretary to Mr. Wilkinson, clarified on Sunday that there are six of them.

In a statement posted on Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, Kyiv described Canada’s decision to issue an export permit allowing the return of the repaired turbine equipment as the “adjustment of the sanctions regime to the whims of Russia.”

“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,” the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ukrainian Ministry of Energy said.

In the statement, Kyiv also disputed Russia’s contention that it requires the turbine equipment to fulfill its natural gas deliveries to Germany.

The Ukrainian government said Russia’s demand for the return of the turbine equipment in order to resume a higher volume of gas deliveries to Europe amounted to blackmail and unconventional warfare tactics. Returning the gear “will allow Russia to continue to use energy as a tool of hybrid warfare against Europe,” the statement said.

Canadians of Ukrainian origin protested the decision Sunday on Parliament Hill and outside Montreal’s City Hall. Later on Sunday, protesters also gathered outside Siemens Canada offices in the Montreal suburb of Dorval.

Energy analyst Sergey Vakulenko, in a recent report for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank, said Moscow appears determined to use gas supplies as a weapon even as Europe strives to reduce its reliance on Russian fossil fuels.

“It is becoming clear that natural gas will be one of the major battlefields of the geo-economic war between Russia and the West,” he wrote.

German officials have said Moscow is using the turbine equipment as an excuse to apply economic pressure to Europe. Returning it would eliminate that excuse, German Vice-Chancellor and Economy Minister Robert Habeck said earlier this week in an appeal to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

In his statement announcing the release of the turbines, Mr. Wilkinson said Canada will continue to impose sanctions on Moscow and is working with European leaders to end dependency on Russian gas imports as quickly as possible, and to stabilize energy markets.

Alexandra Chyczij, national president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, issued a strongly worded statement criticizing the turbine returns, saying the government had bowed to “Russian blackmail.”

“In acceding to Germany’s request, Canada will not only contravene its policy of isolating Russia, it will set a dangerous precedent that will lead to the weakening of the sanctions regime imposed on Russia,” she said.

She added that the ramifications of “Canada’s capitulation to Russian ultimatums” will be far-reaching.

“A precedent has been set wherein the Russians know that at the first sign of difficulty, our government will submit to Russian blackmail and energy terrorism. Inevitably this will embolden Russia to further aggression – making Ukraine, the European Union, and Canada less secure.”

Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong said Sunday that the Liberal government’s decision will “perversely” increase Russian gas exports to Europe, even as Ottawa fails to approve new pipelines and liquefied natural gas terminals domestically that could increase Canadian gas exports.

“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 to Europe,” he said in a statement signed by several other Conservative MPs.

The Trudeau government moved quickly on Saturday to blunt criticism by announcing new sanctions on Russia. Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said in a statement that the restrictions will apply to “pipeline transport and the manufacturing of metals and of transport, computer, electronic and electrical equipment, as well as of machinery.”

Once the measures are in effect, she said, Canadian businesses will have 60 days to conclude contracts with targeted Russian industries and services.

Sabine Sparwasser, Germany’s ambassador to Canada, expressed her country’s gratitude to Ottawa for releasing the turbines.

“We know it was not an easy one. But it is crucial to help Canada’s European Allies to steadily build out the independence from Russian Energy and it preserves our unity,” she said in a statement.

Mr. Trudeau was under intense pressure from German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who raised the turbine issue with him at the G7 summit in late June. Mr. Scholz is planning a trade visit to Canada on Aug. 22 and 23 to push for the construction of liquefied natural gas export facilities on Canada’s East Coast.

With files from Reuters and Associated Press

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