Zelenskyy says Moscow will see Canada's decision to return turbines as 'weakness'

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is blasting the Canadian government over its decision to return to Germany natural gas turbines caught up in sanctions imposed on Russia, calling the move "absolutely unacceptable" and warning that Moscow will see it as a sign of weakness.

Ukrainian president says the move is 'absolutely unacceptable,' calls on Ottawa to reverse decision

In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses the nation in Kyiv on Feb. 25, 2022. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office/The Associated Press)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is blasting the Canadian government over its decision to return to Germany natural gas turbines caught up in sanctions imposed on Russia, calling the move "absolutely unacceptable" and warning that Moscow will see it as a sign of weakness.

Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson announced Saturday that the turbines will be making their way back to Germany after the Canadian government allowed what he called a "time-limited and revocable" exemption to its current sanctions on Russia. The move came as Canada imposed new sanctions on Russian agents and entities in response to its invasion of Ukraine.

But Zelenskyy wasn't pleased with the decision.

"If a terrorist state can squeeze out such an exception to sanctions, what exceptions will it want tomorrow or the day after tomorrow? This question is very dangerous," Zelenskyy said in his nightly address on Monday.

"Moreover, it is dangerous not only for Ukraine, but also for all countries of the democratic world."

Zelenskyy called on the Canadian government to reverse the decision.

"Of course, this decision on one turbine, which leads to many other problems, can still be revised," he said. "Russia has never played by the rules in the energy sector and it will not play now unless it sees strength."

In an interview with CBC's Power & Politics, Ukraine's Ambassador to Canada Yulia Kovaliv said Ukraine will continue to discuss the issue with the Canadian government in the coming weeks.

WATCH Canada setting a 'dangerous precedent' by releasing turbines: Ukraine

Canada setting a 'dangerous precedent' by releasing turbines: Ukraine

1 year ago
Duration 6:13
"This is a very dangerous precedent," says Ukrainian Ambassador Yulia Kovaliv of the Canadian government's decision to release Russian turbines back to Germany. "Russians are just blackmailing Europe."

"We do appreciate a lot of support that the Canadian government provided to Ukraine in different spheres, and we still hope that this decision will be revoked," she told guest host Paul Hunter.

Kovaliv said revenue from the pipeline will contribute to the bloodshed in Ukraine.

"Russia is using energy as a weapon, in Europe and all over the world," Kovalev said.

"This money and fuel are going to support the war in Ukraine ... we need to hold united, all together, to maintain this unity in the sanctions and not waver in them."

Natural Resources Minister defends decision

Wilkinson says the decision was necessary and that German livelihoods are at risk.

In prepared remarks before a news conference in Regina on Monday, Wilkinson said Russia's war on Ukraine and the resulting geopolitical tensions have shown how vulnerable Europe is on the energy front.

"The energy security implications for Europe in particular are potentially devastating," Wilkinson said. 

"This is not just a matter of inconvenience, or even a crunch with respect to affordability and pocketbooks. This is a fundamental threat to their ability to provide the basics for their citizens, from heat for their homes, to fuel to transport food and goods and power to sustain their industries, their jobs and their economies."

In a statement issued on Twitter on Saturday, Wilkinson said the decision to return the turbines came after consultations with the German government and other European allies.

A man in a black suit stands at a podium in a dark room.
Minister of Natural Resources Jonathan Wilkinson responds to a question at a news conference after the federal cabinet was sworn in, in Ottawa, on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021. Wilkinson is defending a controversial decision to send turbines for the Nord Stream One pipeline, which were being repaired in Canada, back to Europe, which would allow Russia to boost its natural gas exports. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

"Absent a supply of natural gas, the Germany economy will suffer very significant hardship and Germans themselves will be at risk of being unable to heat their homes as winter approaches," he said in the statement.

The turbines have been in Montreal for repairs, but Siemens — the German company that manufactured them — said last month that Canadian government sanctions on Russian energy company Gazprom prevented it from returning them to Europe.

The Nord Stream One pipeline supplies natural gas to Germany from Russia. The Russian government says the pipeline is running at just 40 per cent of its capacity right now.

Wilkinson said Monday that Canada is working to find ways to supply Canadian liquid natural gas and other commodities such as hydrogen, potash and uranium to Europe. 

He said Canada can balance boosting energy exports to Europe and meeting greenhouse gas emissions targets.

"We can help our European friends in the short-term and we can achieve our ambitious and vital climate goals," he said.

Reaction to move mixed

The United States government welcomed Canada's decision to release the turbines to Germany.

"In the short term, the turbine will allow Germany and other European countries to replenish their gas reserves, increasing their energy security and resiliency and countering Russia's efforts to weaponize energy," United States State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a media statement Monday.

But a Ukrainian-Canadian advocacy group voiced opposition.

Alexandra Chyczij, president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, said returning the turbines amounts to a "decision to bow to Russian blackmail."

"This decision will ensure that the coffers of the Russian state budget will continue to be filled with European money which will be used to finance Russia's genocide against the Ukrainian people," Chyczij said in a media statement Sunday. 

In another media statement, also issued Sunday, Ukraine's foreign affairs and energy ministries expressed "deep disappointment" in Canada's decision.

"This dangerous precedent violates international solidarity, goes against the principle of the rule of law and will have only one consequence: it will strengthen Moscow's sense of impunity," said the statement.

WATCH | Ukraine says Canada's return of turbines will be seen as a weakness by Russia: 

Ukraine says Canada returning turbines to Russia ‘unacceptable’

1 year ago
Duration 1:52
Ukraine is calling on Canada to reverse its “unacceptable” decision to repair and return Russian turbines, but Canadian officials say the move is an attempt to help get oil to Germany.

The Conservative Party also criticized the move, calling on the government to replace Russian energy in Europe with Canadian resources.

"Instead of circumventing the global sanctions package meant to punish Putin, the Liberal government should approve new pipelines and liquid natural gas terminals so that Canadian natural gas can displace Russian energy supplies in Europe," Conservative MPs Michael Chong, James Bexan and Pierre Paul-Hus said in a statement Sunday.


Richard Raycraft

Web writer and producer

Richard is a web writer with CBC News and an associate producer with CBC Radio. He's worked at CBC in London, Ont., Toronto, Windsor, Kitchener-Waterloo and Ottawa.

With files from the CBC's Evan Dyer and Stephanie Taylor of the Canadian Press