The fallout for steel product maker Evraz North America and its 2,200 Canadian employees remains unclear after the British government Thursday slapped sanctions on Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, and accused him of using parent company Evraz PLC EVRZF to destabilize Ukraine.
Evraz North America is a wholly owned subsidiary of London-headquartered Evraz PLC, which is about 28 per cent owned by Mr. Abramovich. He is perhaps best known for his ownership of England’s Chelsea Football Club.
Trading in shares of Evraz PLC was suspended on the London Stock Exchange Thursday, the exchange said, “in order to protect investors pending clarification of the impact of the UK sanctions.”
Western countries have been targeting Russian oligarchs with ties to President Vladimir Putin in hopes of persuading him to stop Moscow’s military assault on Ukraine that began Feb. 24.
The British government on Thursday alleged that Mr. Abramovich has a “close relationship for decades” with Mr. Putin and that this association has provided the businessman “a financial benefit or other material benefit” including tax breaks and other favourable treatment.
It also singled out Evraz PLC, alleging Mr. Abramovich “exercises effective control” over the company and has used it for destabilizing Ukraine “and undermining and threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine,” including “potentially supplying steel to the Russian military which may have been used in the production of tanks.”
Evraz PLC Thursday denied this and rejected the allegation that Mr. Abramovich exercises effective control over the company, noting his holdings fall far short of 50 per cent of the shares of Evraz. It also said the billionaire in the past five years had only appointed two directors to a board that currently has 11 members.
It predicted that the British sanctions on Mr. Abramovich would not affect Evraz itself.
“Furthermore, the company denies the statement that it is or has been involved in providing financial services, or making available funds, economic resources, goods or technology that could contribute to destabilizing Ukraine,” Evraz said in a statement, “or undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty or independence of Ukraine – which includes potentially supplying steel to the Russian military which may have been used in the production of tanks.”
“The company confirms that it supplies long steel to infrastructure and construction sectors only.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government on Thursday declined to say if it would follow Britain in applying sanctions to Mr. Abramovich, or whether it would also target Evraz.
“All options for future measures remain on the table and will be assessed alongside allies and partners. Canada continues to work with our international allies and partners and is monitoring the situation closely,” Jason Kung, a spokesman for the department of Global Affairs, said in an e-mailed statement.
Mr. Abramovich was No. 1 on a sanctions target list drawn up last year by supporters of jailed Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny.
One of Canada’s foremost sanctions experts says Ottawa should be concerned about the risk that steel products from Evraz North America’s mills could be exported to help the Russian war effort in Ukraine.
“Tubular steel products can be used as an input for missiles,” Toronto-based international trade lawyer Cyndee Todgham Cherniak said.
She said Russian oligarchs have set up steel plants and fertilizer companies around the world, both of which can be used to create weapons. “What I certainly wouldn’t want have happen is tubular products made by Canadian workers ending up being shipped to Russia so they can convert those tubular goods into missiles to then be used against Ukraine.”
Evraz North America operates steel-production sites in the United States and Canada, including locations in Regina and the Alberta cities of Calgary, Camrose and Red Deer. It supplied 58 per cent of the steel being used to build the $21.4-billion Trans Mountain expansion project.
Evraz North America declined comment Thursday when contacted by The Globe and Mail, including regarding whether it has, or would ever, export steel products abroad.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe told reporters that he does not expect Evraz’s Saskatchewan operations to be affected by the British sanctions on Mr. Abramovich.
“The operations that we see here in Regina are disconnected from the global operations and the European operations that the U.K. government is specifically looking at,” Mr. Moe told reporters.
“I have full confidence the mill here in Regina, and the mills in Canada and likely across North America, are going to continue their operations as per usual because they are not connected.”
Evraz North America has a significant presence in Regina. It employs more than 1,200 people there, making it one of the largest employers in the Saskatchewan capital.
“If there were sanctions that severely restricted the operations of the plant, there would be considerable hardships for the people directly affected,” city councillor Bob Hawkins said. “There would also be a knock-on effect on people in retail, recreation, entertainment – people who are struggling to pay their mortgages.”
Canada has the largest Ukrainian population in the world, outside Russia and Ukraine. And Saskatchewan has one of the largest Ukrainian populations in Canada. Mr. Hawkins said Ukrainian flags – alongside Canadian and Saskatchewan flags – currently flank the bridge leading to the provincial legislative building.
“People here are intensely worried about Ukraine and want to see Canada impose sanctions,” Mr. Hawkins said. “Overall, the sentiment would be that this is a terrible thing that’s happening in Ukraine, and Ukraine has to be helped.”
For more than a decade, a massive event complex in the heart of the city was named Evraz Place. Just last week, the grounds were renamed the REAL District – a reference to the organization that operates the buildings on the property. The rebrand had been in the works for months, after the naming-rights agreement expired in May and wasn’t renewed, but the rollout was bumped up because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The name change was going to be announced later this month, but due to the war in Ukraine, REAL felt it was important to accelerate the announcement timeline,” the Regina Exhibition Association Limited (REAL) said in a statement.
The Alberta government, asked for comment on sanctions on Mr. Abramovich, said Canada and its allies should be “relentless” in making life impossible for Mr. Putin’s enablers.
“The Premier has repeatedly called for the Russian oligarchs who support Mr. Putin to have their assets frozen,” Justin Brattinga, press secretary for Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, said in an e-mail.
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