Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky implored Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to escalate international pressure on the Kremlin after Canada circumvented its own sanctions against Russia to help European allies.
In early July, the federal government announced it would release Russian-owned gas turbines that had been stranded in a Montreal repair facility because of Canada’s sanctions against Moscow. The agreement to return the turbines also allows for the import, repair and re-export of the equipment for up to two years.
The move angered Kyiv and the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada. At a protest on Parliament Hill on Sunday, supporters of Ukraine said that with the decision to release the turbines, the Trudeau government is now helping to fund Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.
Just before the demonstration in the capital, the Prime Minister and Mr. Zelensky spoke for the first time since Canada bypassed some of the sanctions meant to put pressure on Mr. Putin to end his war. Canada’s July 9 decision to grant Russia a reprieve fell amid an increasing barrage of attacks that appeared to target civilians, including at universities in Mykolaiv and community buildings in Vinnytsia.
In a terse statement posted to Twitter after his Sunday call with Mr. Trudeau, Mr. Zelensky said the West needs to do more – not less to help Ukraine.
“The international position on sanctions must be principled,” he said, “After the terrorist attacks in Vinnytsia, Mykolaiv, Chasiv Yar, etc., the pressure must be increased, not decreased.”
His statement did not directly mention Canada’s release of the Russian turbines used in gas pipelines. Last week, the Ukrainian President called Ottawa’s decision “absolutely unacceptable” but Mr. Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland have defended the move, which Germany had asked for.
Since Russia launched its war on Ukraine in February, the European Union has spent the ensuing months reconciling its opposition to the war with its need for Russian fuel. The resulting uncertainty has plunged the continent into an energy crisis, with Germany bracing for gas rationing during the winter months.
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, was operating at 40-per-cent capacity.
Kyiv has warned that the move would embolden Moscow to keep using its ability to choke off Europe’s fuel supplies as a weapon. Last week, the Ukrainian government summoned a senior Canadian diplomat to hear Kyiv’s objections to Ottawa’s decision, which has also sparked parliamentary hearings.
After the Sunday call, Mr. Trudeau’s office released a statement that did not mention sanctions and did not reference the release of the turbines.
The two discussed “the importance of maintaining strong unity amongst allies and continuing to impose severe costs on Russia in the face of its illegal and unjustifiable invasion of Ukraine,” Mr. Trudeau’s office said.
Speaking to reporters in a teleconference after a meeting of G20 finance ministers in Bali, Indonesia, on Saturday, Ms. Freeland said Germany’s ability to sustain its support for Ukraine could be at risk if the turbines were not returned. She said a united G7 effort would be needed to support Ukraine, and allowing the repaired parts to return to Germany was “the right thing to do.” The United States has also said it supports Canada’s decision.
The Ukrainian World Congress has petitioned the Federal Court for a judicial review in hopes of stopping the turbines from making it to Germany. The group contends that Ottawa bowed to Russian blackmail and set a dangerous precedent that will lead to the weakening of the sanctions regime imposed on Russia.
The Ukrainian President has previously commended Canada for its support. In May, he said he couldn’t ask Mr. Trudeau for anything more. On Sunday, he again thanked the Prime Minister for sending defence supports. However, while Mr. Zelensky struck a diplomatic tone publicly, Ukrainian Canadians on Parliament Hill on Sunday were angry as they accused Canada of folding to Russian pressure and failing to live up to its promises.
The Ottawa chapter of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress planned the Parliament Hill protest to urge the government to revoke the waiver. About 100 people gathered outside the House of Commons, carrying signs that accused the government of “lip service” and turning its back on Ukraine.
Many people at the protest still have family back in Ukraine and said Canada’s move showed it’s applying sanctions when it’s convenient and when there is less economic cost.
“It’s devastating, that they did not act the way they talk,” said Anastasiia Kot, a 19-year-old student at Carleton University.
Her parents are still in Ukraine and her father is fighting in the military. She said her family is doing “good, according to Ukrainian standards. … All of my family members and friends are alive.”
With reports from Robert Fife, Steven Chase and The Canadian Press
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