This article originally appeared in the Toronto Star.
By Marcus Kolga, July 14, 2022
Canada’s decision to grant Vladimir Putin a two-year sanctions exemption that will allow Russia to send turbines from Nord stream 1, a Gazprom majority-owned pipeline, for repairs in Montreal risks prolonging his war against Ukraine by enabling his capacity to fund it. That exemption must be revoked immediately.
The Russian bombs that have turned Ukrainian schools, hospitals and homes into rubble over the past five months are funded by Russia’s European gas revenues. It also helps pay the salaries of the Russian neo-Nazi mercenaries who have executed civilians and engaged in the systematic rape of Ukrainian women.
The gas that Russia sells to Europe is pumped across thousands of kilometres undersea through the Nord stream pipeline, which runs beneath the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has complicated this arrangement for Germany and other European countries, who allowed themselves to become dangerously dependent on cheap Russian energy a decade ago.
The political cost of Germany’s unprincipled decision to sole-source most of its energy to a corrupt criminal authoritarian regime is now emerging, and Canada has been involuntarily drawn into this debacle.
Germany and its European neighbours are now enduring what many Eastern European states have faced for years: Russian energy blackmail. Vladimir Putin sees energy not just as a commodity but as a weapon that can be used to coerce and threaten European states to advance the interests of his regime.
Over the past months, Putin has cut off gas supplies to numerous European states in hopes of wearing down their support for Ukraine. Russia has cut the flow of gas its gas to Europe by 60 per cent. Ukraine’s European supporters are concerned about dwindling gas supplies ahead of the coming winter.
Canadian sanctions, enacted after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, ban the delivery of technology to Russia, including turbines used in the Nord stream pipeline. Those turbines are serviced outside of Montreal by Germany’s Siemens.
The Kremlin has claimed that Canada’s failure to release one turbine led to a reduction of the flow of Russian gas to a trickle. For Russia, such disinformation and deception are normal operating procedures. Documents available on the Nord stream website state that turbines in eight compressor stations are used to compress gas before it enters the pipeline. Recent reporting states that those turbines are maintained on a rotating basis, which would indicate that the absence of one turbine would still allow the pipeline to operate normally.
Furthermore, pipelines that transit Poland and Ukraine can be used to transport gas from Russia to Europe. Europe’s energy crisis is being caused by Putin, not Canada.
By granting Russia a sanctions exemption for Nord stream, Canada too has become a victim of Putin’s energy blackmail and deception. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned on Monday that “if a terrorist state can squeeze out such an exception to sanctions, what exceptions will it want tomorrow or the day after tomorrow?
By compromising our own sanctions policy, we may also be compromising our credibility.
Russian activist and chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov told me that if Canada and the democratic world “want to stop Putin and the criminal savagery of his regime in Ukraine, we have to target Russia’s oil and gas industry, which is vital to Putin’s survival. Starving this industry of Western technological support will put significant pressure on the Kremlin to modify its behaviour.”
Kasparov warned that “Canada’s decision to return these gas turbines to Russia via Germany helps Putin continue his energy warfare against Europe and funds the war machine that is slaughtering Ukrainians every day. Canada may as well be sending Putin missiles and bombs.”
Canada can contribute to European energy security by developing infrastructure to export Canadian natural gas to Europe. Compromising our own sanctions strategy to sustain Russia’s barbaric war against Ukraine contributes to Putin’s goal of undermining and destabilizing democracies worldwide.
Marcus Kolga is a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s Centre for Advancing Canada’s Interests Abroad.