Those turbines enable the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to ship Russian natural gas to Germany.
Until now, the first of the six turbines has been held up in Quebec – as per the sanctions regime instituted in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – and Moscow was using Ottawa’s refusal to return it as an excuse to slow down gas shipments to Berlin.
Presumably, now that the turbine will be returned, Germany’s fear of an energy crisis this winter will subside.
Given the degree of controversy associated with Ottawa’s decision – President Zelensky condemned the move; Ukraine summoned a senior Canadian diplomat to protest; the Ukrainian Canadian Congress is suing in federal court to try to revoke the waiver that Siemens has been granted – the committee has every right to investigate.
But if members don’t simply use the opportunity to score political points, they should find that Ottawa's actions make sense given Canada’s limited ability to support Ukraine on its own.
It seems to me that critics who charge that the sanctions exemption “calls into question Canada’s very commitment to assisting Ukraine during an existential period in its history,” or that “By compromising our own sanctions policy, we may also be compromising our credibility,” are viewing the move through Kyiv’s eyes, not Canada’s.
Here's what I see when I consider the situation from the point of view of Canadian national interests:
Canada must object vehemently to Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, its abhorrent human rights violations, and its transparently self-serving disinformation campaign.
The fall of Ukraine would undermine the liberal-democratic, rules-based international order under which Canadians have prospered since the end of the Second World War.
But our government cannot defend Ukraine (or help Ukraine defend itself) alone, and there is little more that our NATO partners and Western allies can do without the leadership of the United States.
President Biden has been clear that America’s ongoing commitment to the defence of Ukraine is contingent on European support and cooperation.
If the Europeans aren’t willing to defend their own territory, Biden is not confident that he’ll be able to convince the American public to continue to do it for them.
The president's position makes Ottawa's explanation for its decision revealing:
Both Prime Minister Trudeau and Deputy PM Freeland have indicated that “Germany’s ability to sustain its support [for Ukraine] could be at risk” if the sanctions aren’t waived.
That’s probably why the United States made a point of publicly supporting the Canadian decision almost immediately after it reached the press.
So Ottawa’s move seems to be the best one it could make in this lousy situation – if you want to blame anyone, blame Russia; then, blame Germany.
Inasmuch as I therefore don’t see how the Commons committee could find that Ottawa erred in granting Siemens an exemption, I do see a place for the hearings to make a difference.
Initial reports indicated that only one turbine was implicated in this controversy. The deal announced involves six.
How and why that number changed is not clear, and it should be. If Ottawa misled Canadians when this issue first came up, it must be held to account.
I’ll be tracking the committee’s hearings to see whether members agree.
On Canada and Ukraine, I have found the scholarship of Bohdan Kordan, and especially his two books (find them here and here), particularly helpful.
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