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Canada’s sanctions against Russians are not easy to follow.

Powerful oligarchs are targeted, while others, like Roman Abramovich, are spared. Even if he was at the top of the blacklist of dissident Alexei Navalny.

Is it because this billionaire is involved in building Canadian oil and gas pipelines? Hard to say. Ottawa is stingy with details.


PHOTO MARTIN MEISSNER, ASSOCIATED PRESS ARCHIVES

Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, in May 2021

On Monday, Justin Trudeau gave a joint press conference in London with his counterparts from the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Towards the end, he announced that 10 new individuals were targeted by Canada, without naming them.

“Does that include Abramovich?” “Launched a reporter as the Prime Minister left the room. He did not answer.

Shortly after, the feds released their updated list. We learned that the answer was “no”.

I tried to get explanations from Global Affairs Canada. I was told in very general terms that Canada chose its targets “in coordination with its allies” and that “all options for future action remain on the table”. Nothing more.

At the end of February, Mr. Abramovich told the Jerusalem Post, through a spokesperson, that he would have been asked by Ukraine to take part in the negotiations in order to put an end to the Russian aggression. Maybe that explains why the feds save it.

If not, its role in oil and gas could be another factor. Mr. Abramovich owns 28% of Evraz, a steelmaker with operations in Saskatchewan and Alberta. This makes it the main shareholder.

Evraz is supplying the majority of the pipes for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which was bought out by the Liberal government in 2018. That material was delivered last summer. The company is also the supplier of the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

Four other influential Russians sit on Evraz’s board of directors (Alexander Abramov, Alexander Frolov, Evgeny Shvidler and Maxim Vorobyev). They too are spared Canadian sanctions.

The idea of ​​freezing the assets of Putin’s relatives is not new. Canada and its allies had started doing this before the invasion of Ukraine.

Sanctions were imposed in the winter of 2021 in response to the poisoning and imprisonment of Alexei Navalny.

A few months later, the dissident’s chief of staff, Leonid Volkov, appeared before the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee⁠1. He criticized the first list of people targeted. Since these people have few assets, the effect will remain symbolic, he explained.

What else to do then?

“The short answer is to sanction his close friends, his oligarchs, those who hold his assets,” replied Mr. Volkov, who was speaking by videoconference from Lithuania, where he is a refugee.


PHOTO JEAN-FRANÇOIS BADIAS, ASSOCIATED PRESS ARCHIVES

Leonid Volkov, chief of staff of Alexei Navalny, notorious opponent of the Kremlin, in December 2021

Rereading his testimony helps to better understand the current strategy. According to him, the traditional sanctions, which target an entire economic sector, do not frighten the Russian authorities. On the contrary. “Every time they open a lot of champagne in the Kremlin! “, pictured Mr. Volkov. Vladimir Putin would take the opportunity to blame the West for Russia’s economic slump. This would strengthen his power.

Instead, Mr. Volkov suggested targeting the autocrat’s allies. This surgical approach would be more effective, “because the propaganda cannot present them as being sanctions against the whole of Russia”.

These individuals owed their wealth to the Kremlin. For example, Mr. Abramovich was able to acquire the oil company Sibneft for “crumbs” before selling it back for full price a few years later. Mr. Volkov reports that these oligarchs are in a way the associates of the president. “And money is very important to him. »

Freezing their assets would provide ammunition to then negotiate with Vladimir Putin.

The Conservatives were particularly worried about Mr. Abramovich. What do you think of him ? asked one of their deputies.

“He is number 1 on our list,” replied Mr. Volkov. […] He definitely has the thickest wallet. »

He later clarified: [M. Abramovich] claims to be a businessman, but he is only a nominal holder of Mr. Putin’s assets. »

New report from Transparency International blasts West’s complacency over ‘Russian kleptocracy’ ⁠2.

In May 2021, Mr. Volkov urged Canada to put pressure on the United Kingdom, where the majority of the assets of the oligarchs are hidden, according to him. But experts quoted in the English media argue that a large part of their fortune has already been moved elsewhere.

It was only on Monday that Westminster passed legislation to freeze their assets. It will take six months before coming into force. A clause further allows for exemptions in the name of “national security” or “economic well-being”.

Is it for such reasons that Canada spares Mr. Abramovich? This deserves at least some explanation.

Mr. Volkov warned against concessions. Vladimir Putin only understands force, he said. “Whenever Europe or the United States tries to build bridges, to compromise, to build dialogue, it just sees it as a sign of weakness. »

He concluded with this warning: “the policy of appeasement has failed, unfortunately”.

Precision

Last week, I spoke about the onshore terminal project in Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, to liquefy natural gas and export it to Europe. In fact, this $13 billion project was shelved due to funding issues. The company is no longer applying for a federal grant. It is now looking at a smaller project from floating infrastructure. It could thus enter into activity more quickly. My excuses.

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