When Russia invaded Ukraine, the West was certain that its sanctions were worth the pain. But there always was a question as to whether this resolve would last once the domestic difficulties actually started. This week, western countries moved closer to admitting it might be too much to bear.
At the time of the invasion in February, a massive Russian turbine was being repaired in Montreal. It was one of many turbines used to send gas through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline from Russia to Germany. When the Russians moved into Ukraine, it was kept in Canada as punishment. Over the next few weeks and months Russia replied, cutting off gas supplies to the continent. Gazprom – the Russian state-owned energy giant – last month said it would only ramp up gas supplies to Europe if it got its turbine back. Germany asked the Canadians to send it to Moscow, and Trudeau has now agreed. In Kyiv, this is seen as a sign that blackmail is working.
The turbines are serviced every three to four years, with much of the work carried out in Canada by Siemens. Gazprom’s claim – that the lack of the turbines was a reason they cut off gas to Europe – was seen by energy analysts as a test of western resolve. Ukraine’s energy minister Herman Galushchenko called it ‘absolute blackmail’, and claimed that Russia could easily provide enough gas without the turbine. There are pipelines through Ukraine and Poland which can fully compensate and don’t need the turbine, but Gazprom is only releasing 36 per cent of what it can, he said. Ukrainians in Canada had been urging Trudeau not to cave, but he eventually released the turbine. Germany is delighted that he has now done so: Olaf Scholz said ‘we welcome the decisions of our Canadian friends and allies’.
In Kyiv, they’re less pleased. Zelensky last night said that bowing to blackmail means more blackmail. Ukraine’s foreign ministry said that Trudeau’s decision ‘violates international solidarity’ and that ‘it will have only one consequence: to strengthen Moscow’s sense of impunity’.
But the decision to send the turbine has been supported throughout the West. The US State Department has backed the move. The EU – Germany especially – is terrified that Putin will turn off the gas in the winter, so is building storage facilities in preparation. As energy bills continue to soar, western leaders are recognising that the damage from an economic war is two-sided.
Ukrainians fear that Putin is slowly winning his war of nerves with the West. Concessions to Russia will keep coming, although they will be decorated with platitudes about standing behind Ukraine. Winter is coming, and the West is looking weaker.
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.