Conservative leadership contender Poilievre calls Europe's response to Putin's aggression 'weak'

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, the only declared candidate for the party's leadership, slammed Europe's response to the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, saying in a social media post that the continent's leaders have been "weak" in the face of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

European Union delegation in Ottawa says bloc's 'unprecedented actions... speak for themselves'

Conservative MP for Carleton Pierre Poilievre speaks with the media before attending question period on February 16, 2022 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre — the only declared candidate for the party's leadership — is slamming Europe's response to the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, saying in a social media post that the continent's leaders have been "weak" in the face of Russian President Vladimir Putin's aggression.

Poilievre, who announced his candidacy only days after former leader Erin O'Toole was ousted by his caucus colleagues, said Europe has "cowered" to a "thug" like Putin because its countries are concerned about the flow of crucial energy supplies like oil and gas. He added that Europe's response in the lead-up to this "tyrant's invasion" of a sovereign country has been "shocking."

"While some countries have stepped up to the plate, major European players are sitting on the sidelines asking Russia nicely to stop the war," Poilievre said in a video posted late Monday.

"The countries that have been weakest on Russia's aggression are the ones that rely on Russian energy to heat their homes, drive their cars and power their economies."

Poilievre said unnamed European powers could have done more to prevent a Russian invasion of Ukraine by imposing the sanctions that are now in place well before Putin's troops charged for the border.

"The international community could have long ago crippled Russia's ability to do banking and fund war by cutting it off from the all-important SWIFT messaging system," Poilievre said, referring to the system that connects the world's banks. "As always, petroleum is driving geopolitics."

Poilievre did not explicitly name any of the European countries he said deserve criticism.

The Ottawa-area MP said Canada should sell more of its natural resources to Europe to lessen the continent's dependence on Russian fossil fuels.

"Canada has what Europe needs and lots of it," he said, calling for the development of liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals on the east and west coasts.

Germany, which has the European Union's biggest trade flows with Russia, does receive a significant portion of its natural gas supply from Russia — and it was poised to get even more before Putin's army advanced on Ukraine.

For years, German interests have pushed for the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, a multi-billion dollar artery designed to double the amount of gas shipped from Russia to Germany through a system under the Baltic Sea. With European consumers facing record-high energy prices, the pipeline would have sent cheaper gas to a region that is hungry for reliable energy sources.

The landfall facilities of the 'Nord Stream 2' gas pipeline in Lubmin, northern Germany, on Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022. (Michael Sohn/AP Photo)

The pipeline had faced opposition within the EU and from the United States on the grounds that it would increase Europe's energy dependence on Russia — but Germany pressed ahead with the project even after Putin invaded Crimea in 2014.

Former German chancellor Angela Merkel inked a deal last year to formally bring the project online, despite fears that Russian gas could be used by Putin as a geopolitical weapon.

Germany was also criticized in some circles for its early reluctance to send lethal aid to Ukraine as Putin was amassing troops along the border.

According to the Financial Times, some elements in the German government were also opposed to disconnecting Russian entities from SWIFT, the interbank payment system, because of the economic harm it could do to some German companies.

Germany radically shifts its position on Russia

But as the Ukrainian crisis has intensified, Germany has changed its stance dramatically by abandoning its more muted response to Russian aggression.

Last week, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz effectively killed Nord Stream 2 by refusing to certify the project.

In what he called the "the turning of an era," Scholz also said he would rush 1,000 antitank weapons and 500 Stinger missiles to Ukraine.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrives a for a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel at the Élysée Palace on Monday, Feb. 28, 2022 in Paris. (Francois Mori/AP Photo)

German policymakers also agreed to work with partners like Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. to cut some Russian banks off from SWIFT.

Diodora Bucur, a spokesperson for the EU delegation in Ottawa, said she had no comment on Poilievre's criticisms but defended the economic union's approach to the Ukrainian crisis.

"We are not commenting on internal politics. The European Union's unprecedented actions of support to Ukraine over the last days and weeks speak for themselves," Bucur said in a statement to CBC News.

"Significantly, for the first time in EU history, we are providing equipment and supplies to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, including lethal equipment. Within days, the European Union and our member states, united in a common purpose with our allies, including Canada, adopted the biggest ever sanctions package, which targets the Russian financial sector and removes selected Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system.

"We also imposed an EU wide-ban on Russian planes flying over our territory and on Russian media outlets RT and Sputnik in efforts to stop the spread of disinformation justifying Putin's war.

"Consequences of our actions are real for Russia."

In an interview with CBC Radio's The House, Sabine Sparwasser, the German ambassador to Canada, said the Ukrainian invasion has "fundamentally changed" Germany's Russian outlook. She said the conflict has forced Germany to "regroup" and "rethink" its relationship with Russia.

"For my country, we always thought of having a security architecture with Russia, we wanted to include Russia," she said. "We will have to think about security against Russia and that's a big sea change."

Conservative politicians tout Canadian energy

Like Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, Poilievre has said the Ukrainian crisis could be good for Canada's natural resources sector. As some countries look to cut ties to Russia, Canada could fill a void.

In his video statement, Poilievre touted a proposed LNG terminal in Newfoundland and Labrador — a $10-billion project that would liquify and ship natural gas extracted off Canada's East Coast to Europe — as a way to wean Germany and other countries off Russian fuel sources.

The Newfoundland LNG project is still in its early planning stages and the first LNG shipments are not expected until sometime in 2030 — assuming the proponents can secure the necessary federal and provincial approvals to proceed.

"It will help Europe kick its addiction to Russian gas so they can stand up to Putin rather than funding him," Poilievre said. He criticized the federal Liberal government for blocking past energy projects like the Northern Gateway crude oil pipeline through northern B.C. and the proposed Energy East pipeline through central and eastern Canada.

Poilievre said that, if he's elected, a Conservative government led by him would scrap Bill C-69 — the 2019 overhaul of the environmental assessment process that was widely criticized by the energy industry — and direct regulators to fast-track projects like the Newfoundland LNG facility.

Sparwasser, the German ambassador, said the decision to take Nord Stream 2 offline is among the measures that "will hit Russia the hardest."

She said Russia may yet retaliate by cutting off other gas supplies to Germany and the country is "actively looking for more diversification" to lessen its dependence on Russian natural gas, which accounts for a quarter of the country's entire energy supply.

Asked if Germany would like to source more gas from Canada, Sparwasser said her country is open to new suppliers.

"We would like that. It's just not very easy to deliver it because of LNG capacities. But, yes, in the medium term we are definitely looking to diversify and we will be looking towards LNG possibilities," she said.

Sparwasser also said Germany wants to source "green" hydrogen from Canada.


John Paul Tasker

Senior reporter

J.P. Tasker is a journalist in CBC's parliamentary bureau who reports for digital, radio and television. He is also a regular panellist on CBC News Network's Power & Politics. He covers the Conservative Party, Canada-U.S. relations, Crown-Indigenous affairs, climate change, health policy and the Senate. You can send story ideas and tips to J.P. at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

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