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Decision to exempt gas turbines from sanctions right thing to do: Freeland

Liberals face questions over decision to return turbines to Germany
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland speaks to reporters before heading to Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, June 23, 2022. Freeland says Canada’s decision to send repaired parts of a Russian natural gas pipeline back to Germany was a difficult decision, but the right one. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Canada’s decision last week to send repaired parts of a Russian natural gas pipeline back to Germany was difficult but necessary, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said Saturday.

The Liberals are facing heavy criticism from Ukraine for exempting six Siemens Energy turbines, which were serviced in Montreal and help deliver gas to parts of Germany, from sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking to reporters in a teleconference after a meeting of G-20 finance ministers in Bali, Indonesia, Freeland said she understood Ukraine’s response but defended the government’s move as the right one to make under the circumstances.

“That was a very difficult decision for Canada and I understand the concern that Ukraine has about it, but it was the right thing to do,” Freeland said.

“Canada is united and determined in our support of the people of Ukraine, we’ve contributed $3.4 billion in total financial and military support and I’m proud that Canada has led the way in many aspects to support Ukraine and oppose (Russian President) Vladimir Putin.”

But Canada alone cannot provide Ukraine with the support it needs, Freeland said, adding a united effort on the part of Canada’s fellow G-7 members and the transatlantic alliance is necessary to ensure that support.

Freeland said Germany was clear the pipeline, operated by Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom, could be an issue for its leaders. Russia reduced gas deliveries by 60 per cent last month from its Nord Stream 1 pipeline which runs to northeastern Germany, citing turbine-related technical problems.

“Canada heard very clearly from our German allies that Germany’s ability to sustain its support for Ukraine could be at risk,” Freeland said. The United States has publicly backed Canada’s decision to return the turbines, a position Freeland described as very significant.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, on the other hand, condemned the decision as “absolutely unacceptable” earlier this week.

“The decision on the exception to sanctions will be perceived in Moscow exclusively as a manifestation of weakness. This is their logic,” he said, adding Russia will now try to limit or shut down gas supplies to Europe at the most critical moment.

In Ottawa, opposition MPs demanded Friday that senior Liberal ministers explain the controversial decision during a special meeting of the foreign affairs committee sometime next week.

The Liberals agreed to have Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson take questions.

Conservatives had called on Freeland to appear, alleging that she had disagreed with the decision that Liberals were trying to shield her testimony before her comments on Saturday.

The committee will also invite the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and the ambassadors of Ukraine, Germany and the European Union to Canada to provide testimony.

– Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press