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The pipe systems and shut-off devices at the gas receiving station of the Nord Stream 1 Baltic Sea pipeline and the transfer station of the OPAL gas pipeline, Baltic Sea Pipeline Link, in Lubmin, Germany, on July 11.Jens Büttner/The Associated Press

Justin Trudeau says the decision to repair and return Russian pipeline turbines was “very difficult” but was designed to spare Europeans the pain from sanctions meant to target Moscow.

The Prime Minister said the Liberal government decided to circumvent its own sanctions against Russia because it did not want punitive rules aimed at President Vladimir Putin’s administration to contribute to the energy crisis in Europe and end up hurting natural-gas consumers in countries such as Germany. The agreement allows for the import, repair and re-export of the turbines for up to two years.

“The sanctions are aimed at Putin and his enablers and aren’t designed to harm our allies and their populations,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters during a Wednesday visit to Kingston to announce a battery materials plant.

President Volodymyr Zelensky and the Ukrainian government have sharply criticized Canada’s decision, saying what Ottawa has done represents a dangerous precedent that will encourage Mr. Putin to keep using energy as a weapon. Kyiv summoned Canadian chargé d’affaires Richard Colvin earlier this week to hear its objections over the turbine decision.

“If a terrorist state can squeeze out such an exception to sanctions, what exceptions will it want tomorrow or the day after tomorrow? This question is very dangerous. Moreover, it is dangerous not only for Ukraine, but also for all countries of the democratic world,” Mr. Zelensky said Monday.

Critics including the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) echoed Ukraine’s warning by saying Canada’s decision to create a loophole in its sanctions undermines penalties against Russia for its full-scale military assault on Ukraine. They say Ottawa’s actions will ultimately enrich Gazprom, the Russian state-controlled company that is the majority owner of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline and the turbines Canada is repairing.

The Conservatives and the NDP have requested an emergency meeting of the Commons foreign-affairs committee to probe the government’s Russian turbine decision.

The committee will meet Friday to consider holding hearings.

Russia last month cited the delayed return of natural-gas turbine equipment, which Siemens Energy had been servicing in Canada, as the reason it decided to reduce the flow of natural gas through Nord Stream 1. The pipeline, which ships gas to Germany from Russia, was cut to 40-per-cent capacity.

It has since been shut down for maintenance.

Canada’s decision to repair the Nord Stream turbines has sparked a significant and public disagreement between Ottawa and Kyiv.

The Ukrainian World Congress (UWC), an advocacy group representing Ukrainians abroad, announced Tuesday that it was launching a legal challenge of the decision in Canada’s Federal Court. This country is home to the second-largest diaspora of Ukrainians after Russia.

As The Globe and Mail first reported, Ottawa recently cut a deal that would allow the continuing repair of Russian-owned turbines for up to two years and would allow the import and re-export of up to six units – a far more extensive arrangement than had previously been disclosed.

The department of Global Affairs granted the German industrial giant Siemens Energy an exemption under Ottawa’s Russia sanctions. This allows the company to send turbines from Nord Stream 1 to Siemens Energy’s facilities in Montreal for regular repair and maintenance.

Mr. Trudeau on Wednesday said Canada and its allies have to ensure that public support for Ukraine doesn’t erode.

He said repairing Russian turbines that deliver natural gas to Europe – where consumers are worried about security of supply – is an “essential part” of ensuring that “populations in our countries continue to support their governments stepping up with billions of dollars in military and financial and humanitarian support for the Ukrainian people while they lead this essential fight against tyranny and oppression.”

UCC CEO Ihor Michalchyshyn said Mr. Trudeau is actually harming European energy security and urged Ottawa to revoke the permit allowing further turbine repairs.

“Caving to Russian demands will inevitably embolden the Russians to make further demands; increased funding to Russian state coffers will be used by Russia to finance Russia’s genocide against the Ukrainian people,” he said Wednesday in response to Mr. Trudeau’s comments.

Canada was under intense pressure from Germany to return the turbines to maintain the solidarity of the NATO alliance, a gesture that was strongly supported by the United States. Germany faces possible energy rationing this winter if the Russians continue to use the excuse of the missing turbine equipment as a reason to reduce gas flows to Europe.

Daniel Bilak, a Canadian living in Ukraine who is the co-applicant with the UWC in seeking a judicial review of Ottawa’s decision, said Canadians must understand that helping Gazprom ship and sell gas means more money for Russia’s war machine. “Every day that Gazprom sells gas, more Ukrainians die as a result.”

Shuvaloy Majumdar, head of the foreign policy program at the Macdonald Laurier Institute and Munk Senior Fellow, said the Trudeau government showed “lazy leadership” in how it handled negotiations with Germany for the Russian turbines.

Canada should have first pushed Germany to get its Russian gas from the pipeline that runs through Ukraine, he said, which Kyiv had been urging.

Even if the government felt it was necessary to allow the Russians turbines to be repaired at Siemens’s Montreal facilities, he said, Ottawa should have negotiated a long-term deal with Germany for natural gas from Canada. “The Germans want the turbine to get their gas from the more direct pipeline from Russia but we, as Canadians, did not sit down and say, ‘Okay, we’re happy to send you this turbine but at the same time, let’s do a 20-year deal on Canadian gas.’ "

Canada could have supplied Germany with natural gas using existing pipelines that would carry the gas from the prairies into Thunder Bay and on to Europe, he said.

“With the capitalization of a 20-year deal that Germany could have made with Canada, we could build an LNG terminal on the East Coast and permanently end German dependency on Russian gas,” he added. “This is a failure to think more long-term about how a temporary solution could have led to a great long-term solution for everyone involved.”

Conservative foreign-affairs critic Michael Chong says the move by Canada 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.

NDP House Leader Peter Julian also panned the deal.

With reports from Reuters

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