Russian business elite excluded from Canada's sanctions list

At least three Russian businessmen with close ties to President Vladimir Putin have curiously been excluded from Canada's sanctions list, calling into question the government's tough stance over Ukraine.

Sergei Chemezov, Igor Sechin and Vladimir Yakunin on U.S. sanctions list, but not Canada's

Russian Railways president Vladimir Yakunin is among a number of elite Russian businessmen excluded from Canadian sanctions over the crisis in Ukraine. The revelation calls into question the federal government's tough stance on Russia. (Fabrizio Bensch /Reuters)

Despite Canada's aggressive tone with Russia amid the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, it appears the federal government is not putting all of its money where its mouth is — at least, not when it comes to sanctions. 

Canada has generally been in lockstep with the United States and European Union when it comes to exacting punishments on those deemed responsible for fomenting the unrest in Ukraine. In that regard, the federal government has imposed sanctions on nearly 100 Russian and Ukrainian individuals and businesses since the crisis erupted. 

But at least three Russian businessmen with close ties to President Vladimir Putin have curiously been excluded from  Canada's sanctions list, calling into question the government's tough stance over Ukraine.

While the United States has sanctioned Sergey Chemezov, who runs industrial and military corporation Rostec, and Igor Sechin, CEO of oil company Rosneft, the two have not been banned from travelling to Canada or had their assets frozen. Both, reportedly, have significant business ties to Canada. 

Thomson Reuters reported earlier that Rostec has an aircraft assembly joint venture lined up with Bombardier Inc., while Rosneft owns about 30 per cent of an Exxon Mobil Corp. oil field in Alberta.

CBC News has also learned that Canadian and American sanctions are not in sync with regards to Vladimir Yakunin, president of Russian Railways and one of the most powerful men in Russia. While Yakunin has been blacklisted by the U.S., Canada has not made any moves against him.

According to the Russian Embassy, Yakunin's company had signed an infrastructure agreement with Quebec's SNC-Lavalin for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. 

Russian Railways also signed a commercial agreement with the Railway Association of Canada in 2009.

SNC-Lavalin and the Railway Association of Canada did not respond to CBC News requests for comment.

Bombardier lobbied Ottawa

While Ottawa was developing its sanctions policy, records show it was being lobbied by top officials from Bombardier — one of Canada's major industrial players. 

Bombardier CEO Pierre Beaudoin reported six meetings in March with government officials, according to Canada's official registry of lobbyists.

The company last year signed a preliminary deal to sell 100 short-haul aircraft in Russia and agreed to set up an assembly line for the planes in that country, in partnership with Rostec. Bombardier also has other interests in Russia, including a long-standing joint venture in its rail business. 

A spokeswoman for Bombardier said the company maintains "a wide-ranging dialogue with the Canadian government on a broad range of issues."

"Our discussions were about our dealings all over the world, including Russia. But we weren't in discussions about any one individual," said Marianella Delabarrera in an interview with CBC News.

Furthermore, she said Bombardier is negotiating with Rostec — not any specific person. As well, she said the company respects the sanctions that are in place, but Rostec has not been named as a target. 

She said that while "it's a delicate situation," Bombardier is still hoping to conclude talks for a Rostec deal this year.

Business interests vs. foreign policy

The revelations contrast with Prime Minister Stephen Harper's earlier assurances that business interests would not interfere with Canada's foreign policy.

"Within the context of Canadian foreign policy, we will do what we can to maximize the commercial opportunities for our firms," Harper said while meeting with fellow G7 leaders in March.

"But we will not shape our foreign policy to commercial interests. And when it comes to, you know, a global crisis — a security crisis like the Ukraine, Russia situation — you know, business people have to be aware that there may be risks to them."

But the government was tight-lipped on why it chose not to impose sanctions on the Russian businessmen. In fact, it didn't answer the question at all.

"Our sanctions are designed to punish the Putin regime and bring economic pressure on Russia for its illegal occupation of Ukraine," said Adam Hodge, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, in a brief email to CBC News. 

The New Democrats said the government's response isn't good enough.

"The rhetoric has been very strong from our prime minister on Ukraine," said NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar. "But if you only have rhetoric and you don't have action to back it up, then your actions come into question."

He said if the government is serious about "taking on the Russians," then it has to "hurt them hard where the money is" — with those Russian individuals.

"If they are buddies of Putin who happen to have Canadian investments, they shouldn't be protected," he said.

With files from Tom Parry and Thomson Reuters