Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during an electric battery announcement at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., on Wednesday, July 13, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg

By Mia Rabson in Kingston

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is defending Canada’s decision to return six turbines for a pipeline that carries natural gas from Russia to Europe, even as the Ukrainian World Congress looks to stop the shipment in Federal Court.

The Liberals’ decision to grant Siemens Canada an exemption to deliver the equipment to Germany while it has sanctions in place against the Russian regime has earned it sharp rebuke from the Ukrainian government and critics at home.

The exemption covers a period of two years and would allow Siemens to send turbines back to Canada for regular repair and maintenance.

The Ukrainian World Congress says it and the Ukrainian Canadian Congress have been urging the federal government to reconsider its decision to return the turbines, which had been in Canada for scheduled repairs.

Trudeau said it was a difficult decision, but one made in response to Russia’s attempts to weaponize access to energy in Europe.

“Remember, those sanctions are aimed not at our allies but at Putin and his cronies,” Trudeau said, speaking at a news conference in Kingston, Ont., where he announced a deal to build a battery part manufacturing plant in the region.

Canada, NATO allies and other nations have rallied around Ukraine since Russia’s invasion in February with sanctions aimed at Russian President Vladimir Putin and others in his inner circle.

Now Germany in particular faces a looming energy crisis, as Russia has retaliated against European allies by reducing access to oil and gas supply.

Once returned, the turbines would be used by Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom, which operates the Nord Stream 1 natural gas pipeline that runs under the Baltic Sea from northwestern Russia to northeastern Germany.

The Kremlin-controlled company reduced natural gas deliveries through Nord Stream 1 to Germany by 60 per cent last month, citing technical problems related to the turbines, which had been sent to Siemens Energy in Montreal for repair.

While European countries attempt to wean themselves off their dependence on Russian oil, Trudeau said it’s important to keep their citizens onside with Ukraine.

“That’s why we took this difficult decision to be there for our allies, to ensure that in Europe not just governments, but their populations, stay steadfast and generous in their support of Ukraine,” he said.

The Ukrainian government says that sets a “dangerous precedent” at a time when the international community needs to show resolve against Russian threats and its invasion.

In a statement, the Ukrainian World Congress says it filed a notice of application for judicial review of the decision with the Federal Court Tuesday.

In the filing, it argues Gazprom’s request for the turbines is a “disingenuous ploy.”

“Russia seeks to undermine the Canadian and global sanctions and is using the turbine issue to blackmail Canada and Europe,” the application reads.

The congress has asked the court to suspend shipment of the turbines and deem Canada’s decision unreasonable, and an illegal use of the governor-in-council’s power.

On Wednesday, Gazprom cast doubt on whether the flow of gas could be restored without the swift return of the turbines.

In a statement on Twitter the company said, “in these circumstances, it appears impossible to reach an objective conclusion on further developments regarding the safe operation” of a compressor station at the Russian end of the pipeline.

Russian gas recently accounted for about 35 per cent of Germany’s total supply. Gas is usually sent onward to other European countries as well.

The congress acknowledged the energy threat Germany faces in its court filing, but said Canada’s decision lacks transparency and begins a slippery slope to weaken international sanctions against Russia.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 13, 2022.

— With files from The Associated Press

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