Chief ministers at Russian turbine file defend Canada’s decision during tense hearing

OTTAWA-

Foreign Minister Melanie Joly was questioned Thursday over her claim that the federal government made the decision to grant a two-year waiver of federal sanctions, allowing a Canadian company to return repaired pipeline turbines. Russo-German to “call Putin’s bluff”.

“Russia has weaponized energy by cutting off gas flows to Europe. We had hoped to leverage Canada’s role in maintaining the Nord Stream 1 turbines to do just that,” Joly said Thursday during testimony as part of the hearings. parliamentary hearings on Canada’s decision to return. Russian-owned pipe parts.

The Foreign Minister said that before Canada made the decision, both she and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson discussed the matter with Germany and Ukraine, encouraged discussion between the two countries and looked for alternatives, including a route that finally it was considered unfeasible for the gas to arrive. flow through Ukraine.

“Knowing that the turbines were being repaired in Canada, the German chancellor approached us directly to plead with us to disprove Putin’s deception,” Joly said, going on to make an effort to promote Canada’s efforts to support Ukraine to date. , highlighting the range of sanctions imposed on the different tranches of military, financial and humanitarian aid.

However, opposition MPs were quick to question this reasoning, bombarding the minister with questions about why this idea of ​​calling “Putin’s bluff” has circulated recently, and why Canada did not consider it predictable that Russia would continue to use energy . as a weapon no matter what happened to the turbines.

“This whole decision was based on the idea that there is some confidence, some belief that Putin would, in fact, continue to provide Germany with gasoline… He is lying. We know that Putin is lying… Why call the bluff as you say? , when in reality, you’ve already told us, you’ve already told the world what you want?” asked NDP MP and foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson. “We already knew that the deception was there. So now what we’ve done is we’ve weakened our sanctions regime, we’ve weakened Canada’s position with Ukraine, and yet we haven’t actually helped get gasoline to Germany.”

CANADA WAS OVERCOMED: CONSERVATIVES

Wilkinson testified alongside Joly at Thursday’s meeting of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, discussing events that unfolded before the decision, including the consideration that Canada’s sanctions regime was meant to directly punish to Russia, not to indirectly endanger European economies.

“The trap that Putin was trying to set by setting up the Nord Stream pipeline was obvious. Don’t return the turbines in such a way that Canada and the West are blamed for reducing the flow of gas to Europe and risk splitting the alliance, or return the turbine and risk a perceived weakening in the resolve of alliances with respect to sanctions,” Wilkinson said.

During a heated exchange in which Conservative MP and ethics critic James Bezan suggested that Putin was “playing chess” while the Canadian government was “playing checkers” and was “outmatched,” Wilkinson denied that Canada was allowing Gazprom effectively invest more money in Russia. war machine.”

“I think Mr. Bezan actually misunderstands a lot of the things that were going on,” Wilkinson said, asking what the Conservatives would have done differently. “It’s very easy to make those kinds of comments.”

Committee members voted in July to launch a special summer study on the federal government’s decision to circumvent Canadian sanctions, expressing their desire to be informed by those involved in the decision about how it was made and what its implications and ramifications are.

‘CALLED THE WRONG FAKE’: UCC BOSS

The committee’s marathon hearing continued after ministers’ testimony, with Ukrainian Canadian Congress Speaker Alexandra Chyczij explaining to MPs her organization’s opposition to Canada’s decision, suggesting that granting permission has given Russia a influence that it will continue to try to exploit with respect to the energy sector.

“I think it has always been about the sanctions, not about the pipeline or the turbine. And we allowed ourselves, Canada allowed ourselves, to be part of the blackmail that resulted in a waiver of those sanctions,” he told the committee.

Chyczij questioned whether the federal government did, as it claims, do all it could to prevent the lifting of sanctions on Gazprom, and whether there remains any justification for continuing the permit given Russia’s continued power supply disruption.

“It is absolutely clear that Russia engineered the Nord Stream 1 debacle to test the resolve of Germany, Canada and our allies on sanctions. And we have failed that test. Germany and Canada did not understand what the test was. It is about sanctions, the unity on sanctions, not just on Nord Stream 1… So when Chancellor Scholz says he called a bluff, he did it wrong.”

His organization, in collaboration with the World Congress of Ukraine, has tried to challenge the decision in the Federal Court, arguing that the granting of the permit “was not reasonable, transparent or duly authorized”.

AMBASSADORS EXPRESS DIFFERENT VIEWS

Canada’s decision to allow the return of these turbines has received mixed reviews internationally. While it has been backed by allies such as the US and the EU, it has been roundly condemned by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy,

Delving into the different opinions on the subject, the parliamentarians also heard testimony from the Ukrainian Ambassador to Canada, Yuliia Kovaliv, the German Ambassador to Canada, Sabine Sparwasser, and the European Union Ambassador to Canada, Melita Gabric.

Both Sparwasser and Gabric offered insight into why they support Canada’s decision as a short-term necessity as Germany and other European countries work to reduce their dependence on Russian oil and gas.

“We appreciate Canada’s investment in European security and its commitment to a rules-based international order,” Gabric said. “With the return of this part, one of the excuses used by Russia to reduce gas flows has been removed.”

Sparwasser told the committee that while the turbine debate is an important one, with valid arguments on both sides, it should not be forgotten that it is a debate between allies who are united in their overarching goal of not letting Russia win. the war in Ukraine.

“No decision is perfect. None was easy. It was only after much soul-searching that Germany asked Canada to allow a waiver from its domestic sanctions regime. And the Canadian government granted it, after difficult deliberations. We are very grateful”. for the decision,” the German ambassador said.

In contrast, Kovaliv reaffirmed Ukraine’s position that Canada is setting a dangerous precedent and renewed calls from Kyiv to reverse the decision, arguing that Ukraine would be able to provide a substitute gas supply despite currently being under attack.

“This waiver is not a one-off decision. Keeping all six turbines in Canada will cement Russia’s ability for years to come to weaponize energy and derail efforts to address climate change, and it will be done with Canada’s blessing,” Kovaliv said. . “It is now more than clear that the five additional turbines that were allowed to keep more in Canada will be turned by Russia into tools of humiliation.”

“We urge you: don’t take the bait. There was no need to waive sanctions to draw attention to the deception of the Putin regime… You can simply Google the story. This appeasement logic no longer managed to prevent war in Ukraine,” the Ukrainian ambassador said. .

‘PUTIN HAS NOTHING TO HIDE BEHIND’

The issue arose last month after Wilkinson announced that Canada would grant Siemens Canada a “revocable, limited-time permit,” allowing the company to return the turbines, part of Gazprom’s Nord Stream 1 pipeline, that had been shipped to Montreal for repair.

After the federal government imposed sanctions on Russia’s state-owned energy company Gazprom as part of an expanding economic sanctions program in retaliation for the invasion of Ukraine, Siemens Canada was unable to return the equipment.

As a result, Canada faced pressure from both Russia and Germany to return one of the turbines to Germany ahead of scheduled maintenance that has since taken place. Wilkinson said Thursday that in June, Siemens Canada asked Global Affairs Canada for an urgent request to continue scheduled turbine maintenance at its facility, saying it was the only facility in the world capable of providing the necessary service.

Gazprom claimed that it needed the turbines to continue supplying Germany, after having greatly slowed the flow of gas through the pipeline. This led the Germans to express concern that Russia might use not having the turbines as a reason to further cut off its natural gas supply, leaving Germany without a sufficient reserve.

However, since the turbine was returned, Russia has further reduced gas supplies and failed to install the key piece of pipeline infrastructure it said it needed. According to The Associated Press, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz inspected the turbine in Germany on Wednesday and said there were no problems barring the part’s return to Russia, apart from a lack of information from Gazprom.

“With the issue of turbine maintenance off the table, Putin has nothing to hide behind. When the flow of gas slows down, the world now knows for sure that it was Putin’s decision and his alone,” Joly said. Thursday.

Although not made clear by the Liberal government at the time the deal was announced, the permit allows for the movement of six turbines to be shipped back and forth for regular maintenance over the next two years, with the possibility that the permission is cancelled. revoked at any time. There have been no indications to date that Canada is prepared to do so.

Canada has vociferously defended the move, saying that while it was a difficult decision, it was necessary to roll back Russia’s attempts to sow division among Western allies, as well as ensure that European allies can “remain steadfast and generous in their support of Ukraine”. , which would be more difficult to do if their economies felt the impact of declining energy resources.

Before two of her ministerial counterparts took the lead, Defense Minister Anita Anand said Thursday that the federal government is backing Ukraine “fully” despite the controversial move.

“I have been in contact with [Ukraine Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov] this morning and we remain in solidarity with Ukraine and with our counterparts in the Ukrainian government,” Anand said. “They recognize that we stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine, full stop.”

After announcing that Canadian Armed Forces personnel will deploy next week to take part in a mission to train Ukrainian soldiers in the UK, Canada’s defense minister was asked if Canada heeded Ukraine’s requests for military assistance. while still waiting for the return of these parts, something that the Ukrainians have. suggested will indirectly allow Russia to continue financing its war.

“We will continue to impose severe costs on the Russian regime in response to Putin’s illegal and unprovoked war against Ukraine. At the same time, it is important for us to support our European friends and allies as they work to end their dependence on Russian gas. imports as quickly as possible,” Anand said.

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