If you listened to the House of Commons hearings on the return of a turbine to Russia, you might have imagined you could hear President Vladimir Putin laughing.
Here were the German ambassador and the Ukrainian ambassador appearing before a committee of Parliament to argue over Canada’s decision to bend its sanctions against Russia to send the turbine back.
This was hours of hearing where MPs noted, among other things, that Western allies are funding Ukraine’s war effort against Russia, while Europe buys the latter’s energy with money that finances Moscow’s war machine. And that returning the turbine meant bending sanctions, setting a bad precedent, just to help those energy sales resume. And also that Europe really is pretty desperate for that energy.
The whole thing might tickle Mr. Putin’s dark, icy heart. He set all this up.
He was the one who cut the flow of natural gas through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany, to remind Europeans he has a finger on the switch to their energy supply. And he blamed it on the fact that a giant turbine sent to Montreal for maintenance had been frozen there by Canada’s sanctions against Russia.
The Germans didn’t really believe the turbine was the reason the gas was cut back; they thought it was just Mr. Putin’s pretext, a way of making a veiled threat. But it set up a choice: Either a Western ally – Canada – would have to bend its sanctions, or Russia might cut off the gas. Germany begged, and Canada allowed the turbine to go to that country.
It seems pretty clear now that the turbine was indeed a pretext. It is back in Germany now – German Chancellor Olaf Scholz even posed for pictures with it and declared it fixed – but the Russians are playing new games. The Russian gas company Gazprom is, laughingly, arguing it needs paperwork to show the turbine isn’t covered by sanctions. That’s Mr. Putin messing with Germany’s energy supply to try to back them off sanctions and support for Ukraine.
The German ambassador to Canada, Sabine Sparwasser, made clear why the Germans begged Canada to send the turbine back: They feared Russia would cut the flow of natural gas and embark on a disinformation war to convince Europeans that the lights went out and their economy was clobbered because of a turbine stuck in Canada.
The two Canadian cabinet ministers testifying, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, kept saying the decision to return the turbine was “calling Putin’s bluff,” but that falsely suggested it was an act of strength. Mr. Wilkinson came closer to the real power dynamics when he told Conservative MP James Bezan that if he would not send the turbine back, “then you need to be able to explain to the Germans and the French and the Italians how they’re going to survive the winter.”
It’s not hard to understand that after more than five months of war, Ukraine doesn’t want any backsliding on sanctions that might pave the way for more. Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada, Yulia Kovaliv, warned against “appeasement,” saying Mr. Putin “only understands power.”
Mr. Bezan took the appeasement idea further with a Second World War analogy: He asked Ms. Kovaliv if Canada was acting like Chamberlain or Churchill.
So let’s get some perspective: this is a single turbine, not the invasion of Poland. Mr. Putin may be laughing now, as Ukraine’s allies twist themselves into pretzels. But the turbine itself doesn’t give him a material gain, unless he uses it to do the thing Western allies want – resume gas shipments to Germany. If he still turns the gas off, he has an unused turbine and the opportunity to gloat while Europeans suffer energy shortages.
The way to ensure that this waiver of sanctions isn’t the slippery slope that Ukraine fears is to not do it for anything else. If the return of this turbine doesn’t see gas flow to Europe, then Canada obviously must refuse to service any of the five other Nord Stream 1 turbines.
And the way to avoid Mr. Putin’s traps is to get away from them altogether, for Germany and Europe to accelerate their already-significant moves away from dependence on Russian energy – and for Canada to move mountains to help, now and in the medium term. That’s an outcome of the turbine trap that Mr. Putin wouldn’t find funny.
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