Germany’s Foreign Minister said Berlin warned Ottawa that the EU country could be forced to suspend military and economic aid to Ukraine if a Russian gas pipeline turbine stranded in Montreal, a result of Canadian economic sanctions, wasn’t returned.
Annalena Baerbock said the German government told Canada that if the missing turbine led to a stoppage of natural gas from Russia, it could spark popular uprisings and force Berlin to halt support for Ukraine. The Ukrainian government is largely dependent on Western aid as it fights off a military assault by Russia that began in late February.
Speaking to RND, a German media outlet, on Wednesday, Ms. Baerbock said domestic political repercussions played an important role in negotiations with Canada. The Trudeau government agreed to release the turbine earlier this month and even allow the import, repair and export of up to five more turbines for Nord Stream 1, a pipeline that delivers natural gas to Germany and is majority owned by Gazprom, a Russian state-controlled company.
“The Canadians said, ‘We have a lot of questions,’ and we said, ‘We can understand that, but if we don’t get the gas turbine, then we won’t get any more gas, and then we won’t be able to provide any support for Ukraine at all, because we’ll be busy with popular uprisings,’ ” the Foreign Minister told RND.
She was pressed by RND on whether she really expected unrest to follow. The Foreign Minister said this was “perhaps a bit exaggerated,” but said she was speaking of a scenario where “we had no more gas.”
Ms. Baerbock underlined her comments by saying: “That is precisely my point: that we will continue to need gas from Russia.”
However, German Ambassador Sabine Sparwasser contacted The Globe and Mail, saying Germany never threatened Canada with the withdrawal of aid to Ukraine. She said Germany is strongly supportive of Kyiv but is concerned about having enough gas for the hard winter ahead.
“Germany is the largest donor of Ukraine after the U.S. We have been accepting one million Ukrainians and we are welcoming more,” she said. “We have always been clear to everyone including our Ukrainian colleagues who are very critical of the turbine export that we belong to the best friends [club] of Ukraine.”
Ms. Sparwasser said Germany and the rest of Europe are working to wean themselves off Russian natural gas but do not want to see gas flows “cut off immediately” for the preservation of the functioning of the economy in the short term. She said this is important to preserve their ability to protect Ukraine “for as long as it takes.”
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’s operation was reduced to 40-per-cent capacity.
The Ukrainian government subsequently condemned Ottawa’s decision to repair and export Russian turbines, warning it would undermine the united front of sanctions that Western countries had assembled to put pressure on Moscow.
Ihor Michalchyshyn, chief executive and executive director of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, said Germany allowed itself to be held hostage to Russian energy and Canada should have never bowed to the Kremlin’s blackmail scheme.
“It is now Ukrainians paying the price, as Germany funds Russia’s genocide against Ukraine through its purchase of Russian energy exports,” Mr. Michalchyshyn said. “There is no justification for this; nor is there any justification for the Canadian government caving to Russian blackmail and waiving sanctions.
“The sanctions waiver granted by Canada emboldens Russia and Russian demands and pressure will inevitably grow as a result.”
Keenan Nembhard, press secretary to Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, would not confirm what the German Foreign Minister’ said publicly but did say German domestic politics were discussed.
Separately, on Thursday, the first turbine released to Russia by Canada was reportedly stuck in transit because Russia has so far not given the go-ahead to transport it back, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters news agency.
The turbine, which usually operates at the Russian Portovaya compressor station, was flown back to Cologne, Germany, on July 17 by logistics firm Challenge Group, one of the people said.
The transport back to Germany happened after weeks of consultations between Berlin and the Canadian government over whether such a move would violate Western sanctions imposed on Russia in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine.
Russia reopened the Nord Stream 1 pipeline on Thursday after a ten-day scheduled maintenance shutdown, but it was still operating at reduced capacity.
Russia has said that the return of the turbine had a direct impact on the pipeline’s safe operation, adding that documentation from Siemens Energy needed to reinstall it was still missing.
One of the sources said Moscow had so far not provided the documents needed to import the turbine into Russia, including details on where exactly to deliver it and via which customs station.
German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said of the turbine Thursday: “Sometimes one has the impression that Russia no longer wants to take it back.
“That means the pretext of technical problems actually has a political background, and that is the opposite of being a guarantor for energy security in Europe.”
Fen Hampson, Chancellor’s Professor at Carleton University, said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in a tough situation in giving sanctions relief to Gazprom over strong objections from Ukraine. He said Mr. Trudeau did it to preserve unity within the NATO alliance under pressure from Germany and the United States.
“The alliance is in danger of splintering, and economics and pocketbook issues always take priority over foreign policy,” he said. “The Germans are not doing this out of any love for the Russians. They are doing it because they would be in enormous domestic difficulty if Putin chose to cut off the gas, which I think he is quite prepared to do. This guy is a master of hardball.”
With reports from Reuters
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