By Balkan Devlen, September 14, 2022
The following remarks were prepared by MLI Senior Fellow Balkan Devlen as evidence to present before the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee meeting which convened on September 7, 2022. The full video of those proceedings, including Devlen’s remarks, is available here.
Honourable Mr. Chair and the Honourable Members of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development,
It is an honour to be here today. Thank you very much for the opportunity to contribute to the Committee’s deliberations.
My comments are aimed at shedding light on what I see as the central question when it comes to the debate about the gas turbines today: Should Canada revoke the permit allowing the maintenance of, now infamous, gas turbines? The answer is a resounding Yes.
Doing otherwise – that is, continuing with the sanctions exemption – does not advance Canada’s interests, does not help our European allies with their energy problems, and continues to provide Russian dictator Vladimir Putin with further opportunities for blackmail and leverage against the West.
Let me elaborate.
It is clear to all that technical issues have nothing to do with Russia’s decision to first reduce and then completely shut down gas flows to Europe via NordStream 1. Russia’s actions over the years and particularly in the last few months made this clear. There is no need to go over that familiar terrain that has been covered in the deliberations of this committee again.
It is a political decision aimed at blackmailing and forcing Europe to ease or break the sanctions imposed on Russia as a result of its brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Kremlin spokesperson Peskov said as much and with great clarity on Monday. It is also a fact that is clearly recognized by German and other European publics as polling consistently indicates. It will be giving too little credit to the European public’s political sophistication to argue that they will buy into Russian excuses and blame Canada for the difficulties.
Therefore, it is clear that Canada’s decision to continue to provide an exemption for the gas turbines will have no role in determining whether Russia will resume gas flows to Europe or not. Nor will revoking the permit lead to a backlash against Canada from the Europeans.
What it does however is provide an ongoing point of leverage for the Kremlin to create friction and discord between allies and enabling the Kremlin to develop a narrative of Western weakness and disunity by pointing out the carve outs within the sanctions regime.
In other words, the Kremlin turns to other countries and says “Look, Canada, Germany and other Western powers immediately violate their own sanctions regime and carve out exemptions when their domestic interests are threatened. Why would you go along with this and pay the price while they are not interested in doing the same?”
Continuing with the exemption also does not help our European allies with their energy needs. What would help is to get Canadian LNG to them as they have been asking for publicly and clearly. Not only has Chancellor Scholz voiced his desire for more Canadian LNG but also other allies, such as Poland and Latvia, have been calling for more Canadian gas to Europe for a while now. Clearing the obstacles in front of this real and tangible support for Canada’s allies is what is urgently needed. That is what a good ally would do.
Lastly it is important to keep in mind the broader geopolitical context in which this issue needs to be considered. The strategic goal for Canada must be Ukrainian victory in this war. Supporting Ukraine is not charity but enlightened self-interest. What is at stake for Canada is not only the security and prosperity of our European allies but also the future of rules based international order that has benefitted Canada and Canadians immensely. The country – Russia – that launched this brutal attack on that order is not far to the East of us but an immediate neighbor to the North in the Arctic. Policies that provide leverage and opportunity for Russia are not in the interest of Canada.
In recapitulate; whatever the initial merits of the decision to provide an exemption, there are no strategic, political, or economic reasons now to continue to provide Russia with potential leverage for the next two years. It neither advances Canada’s interests nor alleviates our allies’ suffering. The permit should be revoked and Canada should look for ways to get its LNG to European markets as fast as it can.
Thank you very much for this opportunity to speak to you today.
Balkan Devlen is Senior Fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, where he leads the Transatlantic Program.