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FINANCIAL POST COLUMN: How We Helped Pay For Putin’s Invasion Of Ukraine

Russia Ukraine SecondStreet.org
Ukrainian troops bracing for military combat against Russian invasion (photo: Viacheslav Ratynskyi/Reuters)

The world is addicted to Russia’s energy and, in turn, the Russian government depends on sales of it to finance its operations.

It’s heartbreaking to see images from Ukraine of children huddled together in bomb shelters, cancer patients fearing for their lives in the basement of a hospital or a young couple taking up arms to defend their country on their wedding day. But it’s also infuriating when you realize many Canadian politicians and environmental groups unwittingly helped pave the way for Putin’s attack. Consider the evidence.

Where is Vladimir Putin getting the money to pay for his invasion? Missiles, tanks, soldiers and other military expenses come at a steep price. We know the bills aren’t being paid from selling vodka to the world. Russia’s cash cow is, of course, its oil and gas sector. The country is the third largest oil producer in the world and the second largest natural gas producer. Europe buys most of its natural gas from Russia while even the United States imports 585,000 barrels of oil per day from Putin’s regime. Even Canada purchases oil from Russia — $3.6 billion in total over the past decade despite our own enormous oil reserves (more on that in a moment).

The United States and many other nations have imposed financial sanctions on Russia but have so far declined to hit Putin where it would hurt him most — by halting the purchase of Russian oil and gas. The world is addicted to Russia’s energy and, in turn, the Russian government depends on sales of it to finance its operations.

Beyond subsidizing Putin by buying Russian oil, the much more important way we have helped his regime has been by choosing to restrict our own oil and gas production, thus ceding market share to Russia. Since Prime Minister Trudeau took office in 2015, we have rejected several pipeline projects, oil extraction projects and natural gas initiatives. As the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers recently tweeted, no fewer than five projects in Eastern Canada have been held back by governments. Had they gone ahead, Canada could be exporting natural gas to Europe right now, helping reduce its dependence on Russia.

As for oil, Eastern Canada buys a lot of it from other countries because we lack pipeline capacity to transport it from Western Canada. Recall, the Trudeau government put up a regulatory wall in front of the Energy East pipeline, which fell through as a result. Its cancellation prevented Canada from exporting more oil in competition with Russia.

The proposed Northern Gateway pipeline in British Columbia would also have allowed us to export our oil abroad, but again, the Trudeau government sided with environmental extremists and rejected the project outright.

Nor should we forget the Keystone XL pipeline. Had the U.S. government approved it, Canada could have exported upwards of 830,000 barrels of oil per day to our neighbours to the south, freeing them from Russia’s oil. It’s reasonable to suppose President Biden’s decision to cancel it on his very first day in office had something to do with our prime minister’s half-hearted support for resource projects.

It has been well documented that many Canadian environmental groups have received millions of dollars from the United States to protest against Canadian oil and gas projects. What has received less attention in Canada is that Russia has been funding environmental groups all over the world to obstruct oil and gas projects in other nations. Two years before she lost the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton argued that a lot of anti-fracking, anti-pipeline money was coming from Russia.

NATO’s former secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, told the Guardian in 2014 that Russia, “as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engaged actively with so-called non-governmental organizations — environmental organizations working against shale gas — to maintain European dependence on imported Russian gas.”

Russian entities funding environmental radicals to obstruct resource development in other nations is obviously underhanded. But at the heart of Canada’s problem is the fact that our politicians have made very naïve decisions. For years, many observers have warned that keeping Canadian oil and gas in the ground not only hurt our economy, it meant the world would end up buying more oil from unsavoury regimes like Russia’s. Now these decisions are affecting the lives of innocent people in Ukraine.

Colin Craig is president of SecondStreet.org, a think tank.

Published by the Financial Post on March 2, 2022.

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