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OTTAWA — Conservative MPs have accused the Liberal government of fuelling Vladimir Putin’s war machine by agreeing to allow pipeline equipment in Montreal for repairs to be returned to a Russian energy giant. 

Tories claimed the government’s decision to return the turbine means more funds will be pumped into Gazprom, which is controlled by the Russian state, and in turn will allow the country’s president to buy more arms to attack Ukraine.

The accusations were made during heated exchanges on Thursday at a meeting of a parliamentary committee where Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson gave evidence about Canada’s decision to return the equipment. 

Last month, the Liberal government drew criticism for granting Siemens Energy an exemption on sanctions against Russia and allowing the turbine to return to Germany and then eventually to Russia for installation in the pipeline.

Siemens Energy was granted a permit to import, repair and return up to six turbines for Gazprom. Kyiv has accused Canada of setting a dangerous precedent, arguing the exemptions undermine the sanctions.

Conservative MP James Bezan told the committee that Canada had been “outmanoeuvred by the Russian Federation.” 

He said it seemed that Putin was playing chess while Canada was playing checkers, and accused the Liberal government of “enabling” Gazprom, which would give Russia more funds to buy weapons to kill Ukrainians. 

“It’s embarrassing that the government of Canada capitulated,” he said. 

Alexandra Chyczij, executive director of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, told the committee that the decision to return the turbines was “the thin edge of the wedge” and the first waiver of sanctions since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

She warned that “appeasement of dictators” never works and just “emboldens them.”

But Joly denied that Canada was capitulating and insisted it was rather calling Putin’s bluff. She said returning the turbine denied Putin a pretext for reducing the flow of natural gas through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline that runs to Germany from Russia.

Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson echoed this sentiment and said revealing Putin’s dishonesty had always been a reason for the decision. 

But Tory MP Marty Morantz noted that the government didn’t use this language when the decision was first made. He questioned when it decided the rationale was about calling Putin’s bluff, rather than about securing gas supplies to Europe. 

The Conservatives also questioned whether the alternative of funnelling gas through pipelines through Ukraine had been actively explored by the government. 

Wilkinson said the option had been looked at in detail but was not seen as viable, not least because the Ukraine pipelines were through a war zone. He added that Canada was working closely with European nations to help wean them off their reliance on Russian energy to heat their homes, including by planning to supply natural gas from Canada.

Both Wilkinson and Joly said the decision was taken after wide consultations, including with Ukraine, and was a difficult one. 

Wilkinson said the intention of sanctions imposed after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is to punish Putin and not to punish Canada’s allies in Europe.

Joly said the government was firmly committed to continuing sanctions to squeeze Putin and was planning new rounds every two weeks. 

Russia has proven to the world that it cannot be a reliable economic partner, she said. 

Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada, Yulia Kovaliv, was expected to make clear her country’s disappointment with the decision in an appearance before the committee later Thursday.

On Wednesday, Joly and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock insisted at a joint appearance in Montreal that it was necessary to return the turbine. 

Since the equipment arrived in Germany, Russia has reduced the pipeline’s flow to 20 per cent of capacity, which the ministers said shows Putin is using energy as a weapon of war.

The turbine remains in Germany, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov arguing that Gazprom needs documents from Siemens Energy proving that the equipment isn’t subject to western sanctions before it can be returned to Russia.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 4, 2022.

Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press