Canada’s Gazprom move could be part of Western war weariness

As we enter the fifth month of the war in Ukraine and the resulting food and fuel shortages around the world, parties to the conflict have begun to show crisis fatigue. They increasingly seem to be coming to terms with this mutually hurtful stalemate with no end to the violence yet in sight.

Russia was of course the first to water down its lofty goals of seeking written security guarantees against NATO’s eastward expansion, limiting its goals to consolidating its positions in the border territories in the interior. from Ukraine. Today, Western nations have also begun to reveal a similar decline in resolve, triggering their internal catharsis, with systemic implications around the world.

Meanwhile, all sides continue to claim victories as they gradually begin to drift towards short-sighted and self-serving political choices, thinning their facade of being guided by lofty goals of pursuing well-being and peace. regional or global.

Their diplomatic doublespeak continues to thrive as they attempt to explain the circumstances that limit their options, as unfortunate Ukrainians continue to die or flee for their lives and as consumers around the world continue to be pulverized by soaring commodity prices.

Right now, it’s Europe’s growing panic over impending energy shortages over the coming winter that could reset their equations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but the microcosm of emptiness Sri Lanka’s political and financial ruin reveals what could happen in other vulnerable regions. countries.

A strong supporter of Ukraine

The case of Canada presents the most appropriate example of Western circumspection that defies all logic. Canada is an example of a NATO country with a strong normative foreign policy. It has seen him employ humanitarian rhetoric to buttress his over-indulgence on Ukraine and stand tall with President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Canada has been a leading advocate for Ukraine’s membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and proactive in its military support for Ukraine since its 2014 support for the ousting of the president. pro-Moscow Viktor Yanukovych, and since 2015, Canada has trained more than 30,000 Ukrainian soldiers.

That indulgence is partly guided by Canada’s Ukrainian diaspora, which numbered 1.36 million at last count in 2016.

Thus, on February 25, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was among the first to “condemn” Russia and impose sanctions on 58 Russian individuals and entities. Over the past four months, Canada has sent soldiers, volunteers, weapons and relief supplies and supported Ukraine in international forums.

Canada not only welcomed Ukrainian refugees, but waived several immigration admissibility rules and provided them with a monthly financial allowance upon arrival as part of the Canada-Ukraine Travel Clearance. emergency.

The federal government’s website on Canada’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine features an incredibly user-friendly get started offering safe passage and shelter for those wishing to leave their war-torn country.

Defy logic

But last Monday, facing opposition from its Ukrainian diaspora at home and from Ukrainian leaders in kyiv, Canada airlifted the first of six Russian turbines being repaired by German energy company Siemens in Montreal.

It happened at Russia’s Portovaya compressor station, which is a crucial part of the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline from Moscow to Germany and the most powerful instrument in its twisting of the arms of European countries.

While the US State Department, the European Union and Germany have expressed support for the Canadian move, Ukrainians have voiced their opposition. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called it a “mistake”, saying “this solution will not solve the problems” and “rather put Russia in a winning position”.

On Tuesday, Canada’s former chief of defense staff, General Rick Hillier, described it as a signal for a “release of pressure from NATO [and] of the West in general.

There is no doubt that Russian gas supply uncertainties and shortages have driven panic and prices up among Canada’s European allies, but this decision differs significantly from, for example, Australia’s standard line on the Ukrainian crisis.

Likewise, confusion among Europeans also continued to flourish. Most European nations have already taken emergency measures, and yet next Tuesday the European Commission will debate a proposal asking member states to ensure a 15% reduction in their gas consumption, which requires a majority two-thirds elusive for approval. .

No easy choices

Gazprom, which stands amid these changing tides, owns majority stakes in Nord Stream 1 and has been under Canadian sanctions since March. Gazprom last week linked its decision to cut Nord Stream 1 gas supply by 60% of its capacity to continued delays in repairing its turbines at Siemens’ plant in Montreal.

It was apparently the last straw that pushed Trudeau to make the difficult choice to allow six Russian turbines to be repaired in Canada for several years, although he defended his decision saying it was designed to spare allies. Europeans the pain of the sanctions intended to target the Russian regime.

Putin, however, shows few signs of letting up on using energy to intimidate Canada’s European allies. For months, the Russian president has been threatening to cut supplies, weakening the already fragile resolve of several vulnerable European countries, including Germany, which is heavily dependent on Russian gas supplies.

Of the European Union’s total imports of 140 billion cubic meters (bcm) from Russian pipelines last year, the largest share came from Nord Stream 1, which carries 55bcm of gas annually, but it was shut down for annual maintenance since July 11. the repair period was scheduled for 10 days, thus ending on July 21, but some suspect that Putin will not bring the pipeline back to 100% capacity.

The prospect threatens to upend Europe’s gas storage plans for the winter as they fumble between emergency measures and imposing punitive price hikes.

This week, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg pressured the European Parliament to ‘stop complaining’ and help Ukraine, alluding to his fears about Europe’s changing trajectories. .

Changing tides

Realizing that the Ukraine standoff is doomed to become a long, painful journey with no meeting ground between Russia and the United States and its still-in-sight European allies, third countries like Turkey have become proactive in seeking exit strategies. for Moscow and Kyiv. This is where Canada’s logic-defying concession to Gazprom could help boost those positive vibes.

The last four months have already seen Russia and Ukraine diminish the intensity of their violence. Moscow and Kyiv have also engaged in more than a dozen direct talks with various high-profile interlocutors. Now, with facilitation provided by Turkey – often an irritant to the United States – Russia and Ukraine were due to sign a UN-brokered deal on Friday to allow Ukraine to resume food exports from its ports in the black Sea.

The deal involves Russia enforcing a truce while Ukrainian navy ships escort grain shipments through heavily mined coastal waters, while Turkey – backed by the UN – ensures Ukrainian ships are not not misused for arms smuggling.

While experts remain skeptical whether such moves will have any impact on Putin’s policy, after the arrival of the first turbine from Canada, Moscow resumed gas supplies to Nord Stream 1 on Thursday, although that still at only 40% of its capacity.

At the same time, even after this unusual move from Ottawa, Putin on Wednesday accused Canada of sabotaging Gazprom’s ability to continue its full supply. He went one step further by alleging that Canada had sinister motives, saying that “Canada did it because it produces oil and gas itself and plans to enter the European market”, which, of course, carries a mixture of myth and reality.

At the very least, this concession to Gazprom brings Canada back to the forefront of the world stage, as it has long been absent from most other US-led global initiatives.

Follow Swaran Singh on Twitter @SwaranSinghJNU.

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