OTTAWA — With a grateful German leader at his side on Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood firmly behind the controversial decision to export at least one natural gas turbine for a Russian-owned pipeline that is a crucial source of natural gas for Germany and other European states.
The Canadian government has already allowed a German company to repair and export one of the machines from its facility in Montreal, and Trudeau did not rule out letting another five turbines follow under a special, two-year exemption permit to Canadian sanctions imposed on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
Trudeau defended the decision as a tough, but necessary, way to show Russian President Vladimir Putin’s wartime posturing against Europe — rather than technical difficulties, as Moscow has claimed — is responsible for the energy crisis that has accompanied the war in Ukraine.
“What we have done by returning those turbines, or that turbine, is remove the excuse that Russia had to blame someone else — anyone else — for their decision to weaponize energy policy,” Trudeau said.
“We chose to take the difficult decision of returning those turbines because we do not want division in our steadfast support for Ukraine.”
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who is in Canada on a three-day visit and spoke alongside Trudeau at a news conference in Montreal, thanked the Canadian government for the decision and echoed Trudeau’s defence of the move as Germany strives to reduce its reliance on natural gas from Russia.
“What Russia is doing is splitting populations, splitting allies, splitting all those who are supporting Ukraine, and this is the reason why we are so thankful for the decision of the Canadian government,” Scholz said.
In July, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly approved a special permit that allows Siemens Energy Canada to repair and export six turbine engines at its facility in Montreal for the Nord Stream 1, a natural gas pipeline whose majority shareholder is Gazprom, a Russian state-owned energy company.
The move drew harsh condemnation from Ukraine, where President Volodymyr Zelenskyy slammed the decision as “unacceptable” and “dangerous.” Conservative and NDP MPs have called on the government to cancel the permit for the remaining five turbines, and the Ukrainian World Congress has launched a legal challenge of the exception waiver in Federal Court.
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Congress president Paul Grod told the Star on Monday that Trudeau has already accomplished the goal of exposing Russia’s efforts to strain European energy supplies. As Scholz confirmed Monday, Russia has not collected the single turbine repaired and exported so far, even as Gazprom has said it must reduce gas shipments to conduct maintenance on the Nord Stream pipeline.
“This is all political gamesmanship, and it’s really important for Canada and Germany to stand up to Putin and stop falling for his energy blackmail,” Grod said.
In response to the Ukrainian World Congress’s legal challenge, the government filed a “memorandum for action” in court that detailed the rationale for granting the permit. The memo shows that Global Affairs Canada recommended the move, which came at the request of Siemens Energy. It says that, while Ukrainian officials wanted Canada to deny the permit, Germany requested Canada’s help in granting it because the machines “are necessary to supply Germany and the rest of Europe with natural gas.”
The memo also warns of further increases in energy prices and potential lack of heating in Europe, and states that “Russia is leveraging this situation to blame Western sanctions for causing energy insecurity, while it deliberately reduces its flow of natural gas to Europe.”
The memo shows Joly agreed with the assessment and approved the permit for six turbines on July 9, and that it is valid until Dec. 31, 2024 unless the foreign affairs minister revokes it earlier.
Like Trudeau, Joly has repeatedly said the permit was granted, in part, to block Putin from “weaponizing” energy flows to Europe. Earlier this month, she told the Star that rationale is still in place, despite her assertion Putin never intended to use the equipment to boost gas flows, given that Russia has yet to collect the first turbine from Germany.
“This has been a situation that has always been evolving, and I’m a very flexible person that will always adapt to context,” Joly said, although she refused to discuss what circumstances would allow for cancelling the permit.
In a statement to the Star, Siemens Energy Canada spokesperson Ann Adair said the company has not received any damage reports from Gazprom about other Nord Stream turbines. Siemens assumes they are functioning properly, she said, but that the permit from the Trudeau government means “any future maintenance work can be facilitated.”
With files from Raisa Patel
Alex Ballingall is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @aballinga
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