On the surface the Canadian government’s decision to bust the sanctions and ship newly-repaired Nord Stream turbines back to Russia’s state Gazprom energy firm is just baffling. Didn’t we famously virtue-signal our support for Ukraine even if we’re having trouble sending them useful military hardware because we don’t have much? But in fact the decision to release the vital equipment, which drives a natural gas pipeline compressor station and was being serviced in Canada by a subsidiary of the German engineering giant Siemens, is an instructive illustration of how one weakness leads to another. If Germans hadn’t foolishly made themselves dependent first on Soviet then Russian gas because it seemed sophisticated to lack the backbone to stand up to tyranny, they wouldn’t be where they are today. And if our governments hadn’t found a way to strangle every pipeline and other energy project whose throat they could reach, we’d be shipping our own natural gas to Europe instead of equipment for the Russian network.
When rumours of the approval began to circulate, the Ukrainian government was naturally horrified. Its energy ministry warned that “If, God forbid, this decision is approved, we will undoubtedly appeal to our European colleagues that their approach must be reassessed. Because if countries do not follow decisions they have agreed about sanctions, how can we talk about solidarity?” But their European colleagues, especially Germany, weren’t going to buy that “must” because having devastated their own energy industry they’re now dependent on Putin’s.
It's a classic illustration of how geopolitical weakness generally stems first from moral weakness then contributes to it. First you lack the courage to call tyranny what it is, then you find that you lack the practical capacity. When Donald Trump pointedly warned Germany about dependence on Russian gas in a 2018 UN speech, the German delegates openly laughed in his face. Presumably they long ago stopped laughing, but if not this week’s Russian declaration of force majeure and outright cancellation of significant future gas deliveries will have the required effect. When Canada predictably took the course of least honour, our Natural Resources minister took the spineless and brainless course of claiming he really had no choice because “absent a necessary supply of natural gas, the German economy will suffer very significant hardship.” Whereas present an unnecessary supply of Russian invaders the Ukrainian economy is literally being blown to bits. But who’s counting?
Instead of admitting Putin had both us and our foolish European allies in a vise because of our own economically and strategically feeble energy policies, Wilkinson instead engaged in the same type of misdirectional bafflegab Deputy Prime Minister Freeland had offered earlier about why high gas prices were secretly good for consumers, saying helping Russia sell natural gas to our allies would support “Europe’s ability to access reliable and affordable energy as they continue to transition away from Russian oil and gas.” Transition to where, exactly? Not Canada, now that our government has made it impossible to build natural gas export facilities.
Calling the export permit “time-limited and revocable” is a classic case of trying to sound tough while acting weak. And a person who is meant to be our Foreign Affairs Minister added fatuously that “Canada is unwavering in its support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity … Canada will not relent in pressuring the Russian regime.” But Canada did just waver and relent, and the Kremlin certainly knows it.
The Germans especially would do well to recall Churchill’s famous though possibly apocryphal warning to Neville Chamberlain after the spineless 1938 Munich Accord with Hitler that “You were given the choice between war and dishonour. You chose dishonour and you will have war.” (It seems that the closest he came was in a letter to Lord Moyne on September 11 of that year that “We seem to be very near the bleak choice between War and Shame. My feeling is that we shall choose Shame, and then have War thrown in a little later on even more adverse terms than at present.”) Putin and Gazprom have been using the lack of turbines as an excuse to cut back gas shipments through Nord Stream 1 by 60% since June. But if the German government thinks Big Bad Vlad is going to let them buy all they want in the hard winter now looming, they’ll find that having chosen dishonour over scarcity they’ll get both.
Clearly their collars are getting tight. On July 7 German vice-chancellor Robert Habeck said “social peace in Germany is being challenged,” and the Economist in reporting his remarks added that “In Germany, which relies on Russia for around one-third of its gas imports, energy bills are expected to soar. Gas prices will cause firms huge losses; ultimately, Mr Habeck fears, they could trigger a financial meltdown. The ultimate threat – a complete Russian cut-off – looks ever more plausible.”
Still, if you want to know who’s threatening “social peace” there’s no need to look east. It was mainstream German politicians who lacked the spine to stand up to the Greens’ anti-nuclear obsession even as they shut down fossil fuel plants. As Michael Shellenberger noted, Habeck is still uttering untruths about the role of nuclear power in the German economy to justify moving forward with plans to shutter its last three nuclear plants in December despite everything. And as the National Post just editorialized, the folly goes even further back, to the weird Ostpolitik of the 1970s. “The origins of the current mess date back to 1970, at the height of the Cold War, when West Germany signed an agreement with the Soviet Union to supply it with gas from Siberia. NATO rightly raised concerns at the time, but was assured by the West German government that Russia would never account for more than 10 per cent of its natural gas supplies.”
That was then. Now that this terrible decision has been made in a self-inflicted emergency, is Germany going to switch back on its nuclear plants, which don’t even emit much in the way of GHGs? And is Canada going to start building pipelines? Or do we find the combination of dishonour and conflict just inexplicably irresistible?
Putin is watching. So is Xi Jinping. What about it, Prime Minister Trudeau and President Biden? Pipelines in democratic countries? Finally?