Ukraine summoned a senior Canadian diplomat to hear Kyiv’s objections to a decision by Ottawa to release Russian-owned gas turbine equipment that had been stranded in a Montreal repair facility because of sanctions against Russia.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his daily address on Monday that the matter was serious enough that it was necessary for him to employ the diplomatic tool, which governments use to register anger or dismay with their foreign counterparts.
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 and is majority-owned by Gazprom, a Russian state-controlled company, was operating at 40-per-cent capacity.
The turbine equipment could not be returned because of sanctions Ottawa introduced after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Those measures forbid the export of certain goods and technologies to Russia. But on Saturday the Canadian government announced that it would issue a special export permit to allow the equipment to be returned, despite the sanctions. It said it had done so at the urging of Germany and other European countries, who are reliant on Russian natural gas to replenish their fuel reserves ahead of the coming winter.
The release of the turbine equipment, Mr. Zelensky said, is an “absolutely unacceptable exception to the sanctions regime against Russia.”
Officials in Ukraine have said Russia does not need the turbine equipment to increase the flow of gas, and is merely using the issue as an excuse to apply economic pressure to Europe.
Mr. Zelensky argued that the exception to Canada’s sanctions could undermine Western efforts to isolate Moscow. “It’s not just about some Nord Stream turbine that Canada shouldn’t have, but still decided to hand over,” he said. “This is about common rules. 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.”
The Ukrainian government said it had summoned Canada’s chargé d’affaires on Monday, rather than Larisa Galadza, Canada’s ambassador to the country. A chargé d’affaires normally serves as chief of mission in the absence of the ambassador. The Canadian government did not immediately respond to a question on Monday about Ms. Galadza’s whereabouts.
Yulia Kovaliv, Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada, said in an interview that Kyiv is still hoping Canada will reverse its decision. “It creates a very dangerous precedent,” she said.
Ned Price, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, defended the decision. In an interview, he said the United States backs reducing “collective dependence on Russian energy,” and that in the short term repatriating the turbine equipment would “allow Germany and other European countries to replenish their gas reserves, increasing their energy security and resiliency and countering Russia’s efforts to weaponize energy.”
He added the U.S. is working with Canada and other allies to find ways to reduce Moscow’s energy revenues and curtail its ability to fund the war in Ukraine.
Critics of the decision, including the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, an advocacy group representing the Ukrainian community in Canada, countered that the move would ultimately jeopardize petroleum supplies in Europe by encouraging Russia to use its ability to choke off natural gas supplies as a weapon.
Opposition MPs are calling for an emergency meeting of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee to examine why the government is circumventing its own sanctions law.
On Monday, Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong sent a letter to Ali Ehsassi, the chair of the committee, asking for such a meeting.
He argued 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.
In a statement, NDP foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson called for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to rescind the turbine decision, saying the return of the equipment is “shocking and disappointing.”
“Canadians expect their government to show real solidarity with Ukraine but the Liberal government’s decision is an affront to Ukrainians,” she said.
Ms. McPherson added that she would support recalling the Commons foreign affairs committee to study the matter.
Under the standing orders of the House, if four members of a committee request a meeting, the committee must meet within five calendar days to consider the request.
Two men began a hunger strike near Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Sunday over Mr. Trudeau’s decision to send back the turbine equipment. One of them, Ladislao Zaichka, is a 21-year-old Canadian of Ukrainian origin. The other, Arseni Pivtorak, is a 19-year-old Ukrainian citizen with permanent residency status in Canada. Mr. Zaichka said Ottawa is betraying Kyiv. “What side is my Prime Minister on?” he wondered on Monday.
Nord Stream 1 was shut down Monday for annual maintenance. Natural gas flows are expected to stop for 10 days, but governments, markets and companies are worried the shutdown might be extended because of the war in Ukraine. German Economy Minister Robert Habeck has said his country should confront that possibility.
The grounded turbine equipment will be sent to Germany, whose government will then turn it over to Russia. The indirect return route could allow Canada to say it has not reneged on its sanctions.
Ihor Michalchyshyn, chief executive of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, said sending back the turbine equipment will encourage Moscow to continue wielding energy as a weapon.
“Having shown the Russian regime that their tactics of blackmail are successful, Canada and Germany are making further ultimatums and energy terrorism by Russia a virtual certainty,” Mr. Michalchyshyn said.
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.
With reports from Reuters and the Associated Press
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