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The great gas turbine blame game

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It weighs more than 18 tons, is 12 meters long, and if it doesn’t move soon could devastate Europe’s economy.

A gargantuan gas turbine — essentially a huge engine — has been sitting in Cologne for days, stuck in sanctions limbo. It should have been ferried over Finland and into Russia by now, to begin pushing vital gas supplies through the Nord Stream pipeline into the EU.

If it doesn’t arrive before Monday to replace a worn-out twin, Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that flows through the undersea gas link will plummet once again. And although the pipeline runs from Russia to Germany, the knock-on effect would damage all of Europe. Brussels reckons that if Russia’s gas deliveries are shut off, it could hit the bloc’s economy by up to 1.5 percent of GDP.

Over the past month, German Economic Affairs Minister Robert Habeck has expended considerable political capital convincing Canada to send the turbine back from a maintenance facility in Montreal, as a one-time exception to sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. Kyiv is, as you’d imagine, furious.

But since landing on German soil earlier this week, the turbine — made by Munich-based Siemens Energy — hasn’t journeyed onward.

But whose fault is that? Germany? Russia? Canada?

“Sometimes one has the impression that Russia no longer wants to take it back,” Habeck complained at a press conference late on Thursday, while media representatives for the company that runs the pipeline said Friday that the turbine issue “is outside of the responsibility of Nord Stream AG.”

Gazprom, the Russian state-backed company waiting to receive the repaired component, claims the issue is a lack of paperwork proving the turbine can be moved without sanctions.

“Gazprom has repeatedly applied to Siemens with requests to provide official documents confirming the granting of an exemption from the current sanctions regimes of Canada and the European Union,” the firm said in a Friday statement. “Siemens still did not provide them.”

Siemens Energy said Friday that this “has nothing to do with it.”

“Naturally, we want to transport the turbine to its place of operation as quickly as possible,” a Siemens spokesperson said via email. But “the time it takes is not exclusively within our control.”

Anonymous sources quoted by Reuters on Friday claimed that it’s actually a lack of Russian customs paperwork that’s to blame.

When contacted for comment on the allegation the delay is on the Russian side, a spokesperson for Russia’s diplomatic mission to the EU said Friday that “we in the mission are not directly engaged in the issue.”

Germany’s permanent representation to the EU did not respond to a request for comment.

All the while the buck is being passed, the Ukrainians’ blood is boiling. The government in Kyiv has decried the turbine standoff as an elaborate ruse, given that Russia is free to send gas to Europe via Ukraine but chooses not to.

Brussels has also called the turbine issue a red herring. “Russia is blackmailing us,” warned European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday.

On Thursday, “several German officials and a Gazprom manager in Europe” told the Wall Street Journal that “Nord Stream had an elaborate contingency system with at least one spare turbine available at all times.”

Putin, as usual, deflected.

“I’ll tell you why Canada did it,” the Russian president said Wednesday about the delay in getting the turbine moved from Montreal. “Because it produces oil and gas itself and plans to enter the European market!”

Meanwhile in Ottawa, two federal ministers and three ambassadors are being asked to testify before parliament over how exactly they decided a sanctions exemption was warranted.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told German media Wednesday that the Canadians “had a lot of questions” about the plan.

“And we said, ‘we can understand that, but if we don’t get the gas turbine, then we won’t get any more gas, and then we won’t be able to provide any support for Ukraine at all, because we’ll be busy with popular uprisings,’” Baerbock said, before immediately backtracking to say this version of events was “perhaps a bit exaggerated.”

A Ukrainian community group in Winnipeg is suing to revoke the permit to send the turbine to Germany and eagerly waiting to hear the Canadian side’s version of events.

Parliamentary hearings on the lawsuit from the Winnipeg group were expected to take place this week, depending on ministers’ schedules. But committee members are now being told they won’t happen before the end of next week at the earliest.

There’s no risk of the issue being swept under the rug anytime soon, though — five more turbines are reportedly on the way from Canada.

Maura Forrest in Ottawa contributed reporting.

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