Canada sanctions Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich as Trudeau departs Europe

WARSAW, Poland — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau capped a weeklong European trip Friday by slapping new sanctions on the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, who has become an international poster boy for the largesse that enabled President Vladimir Putin's war on Ukraine.  

Abramovich is a major shareholder in Evraz, a British multinational manufacturing company that operates a steel mill in Regina. Britain also sanctioned Abramovich on Thursday, as pressure continued to grow on Boris Johnson's government to bring down the hammer on the owner of its famed Chelsea Football Club. Abramovich sent his super yacht into the Mediterranean Sea this week to avoid having it seized.

Abramovich is one of five new Russian oligarchs added to the Canadian sanctions list for their close ties with Putin as Trudeau ended a four-country European trip. 

Their assets will be frozen, and restrictions placed on 32 military entities in Russia, Trudeau said in Warsaw before his planned departure on Friday, as the Russian war on Ukraine appeared to be entering an ominous new phase. Airstrikes on cities in western Ukraine signalled an attempt by its forces to expand its attack beyond the country's other regions further north and south.

Trudeau also visited London, Berlin, and Riga, Latvia, to meet with leaders to ramp up pressure on Russia to end its invasion of Ukraine. Their measures included sanctions, tightening the economic noose around the neck of Putin and his enablers, and sending new arms to Ukraine's military and civilian fighters who have so far defied all odds in holding off the onslaught of Europe's biggest military force.

Trudeau gained deeper insight into Putin's state of mind during a three-hour dinner in Berlin with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Wednesday, a senior official told The Canadian Press on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record. Trudeau has not spoken directly to Putin since the Feb. 24 invasion but Scholz did have a conversation with the Russian leader that same day, one of a handful of western leaders who has spoken to Putin.

Trudeau was able to have a secure discussion with the leader of Europe’s largest economy, which allowed for an exchange of intelligence, said the official.

Trudeau said Friday a central theme in the conversations of his allies with Putin "what he wants, what the endgame is "rather than focusing on "his deeper motivations and justifications."

He said the leaders are trying to make Putin understand that "what he is doing is not going to lead to benefits for him or for the Russian people. On the contrary, it has set back Russia's path forward."

G7 leaders issued a joint statement Friday backing Ukraine, calling for an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of Russian troops and promising further sanctions and economic policies targeting Russia's economy.

"We are united in our determination to hold President Putin and his regime accountable for this unjustified and unprovoked war that has already isolated Russia in the world," they said.

That includes denying Russia "most-favoured nation" status for trading, which would prevent Russia from exporting goods to the G7 at favourable tariff rates. Canada already revoked that status for Russia and Belarus on March 3 and the G7 statement said a broad coalition of World Trade Organization members will follow suit shortly.

The leaders said they're also pushing global financial institutions including the World Bank and International Monetary Fund from giving Russia any financing.

"Russia cannot grossly violate international law and expect to benefit from being part of the international economic order," the statement said.

The G7 includes the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada. 

However, Trudeau and his allies have not been able to give the Ukrainian leadership the one thing it wants to protect its civilian population that has been pummelled by Russian bombs for more than two weeks: a no-fly zone. Western politicians, NATO leaders and the Trudeau government all say that a no-fly zone would lead to all-out air war between them and the alliance. 

Canadians will soon get to hear directly from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has agreed to address Parliament March 15. House Speaker Anthony Rota has confirmed the president will deliver a video address at 11:15 a.m. EST

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland noted this week as she stood near the Berlin's symbol of Cold War freedom, the Brandenburg Gate: "They're fighting for all of us. But they're fighting alone." 

Therefore Canada and its allies have resorted to an unprecedented economic war on Russia in the hopes the rich and powerful cronies of Putin might turn against him, or the pain inflicted on its citizenry will somehow drive them to change their government.  

Trudeau said the government would try to ensure that the sanctions against Abramovich don't hurt the Canadian workers in the Saskatchewan company in which he holds a stake.

"The sanctions on Russian officials and oligarchs like Abramovich are directed at them so that they cannot profit or benefit from economic activities in Canada or the hard work of Canadians working with companies that they have investments in," Trudeau said.

The prime minister said he believes the value of the shares Abramovich owns in Evraz is less than 30 per cent. "We are obviously going to watch carefully but we are confident that this will not impact the hardworking Canadians who are doing good work in companies across the country."

Trudeau also said he's considering a Canadian airlift of Ukrainian refugees who may want to leave Europe to find a safe haven in Canada as the European continent buckles under its worst migration crisis in decades. But he wouldn't say when. 

"I'm not ruling that out at all," Trudeau said. "We're looking at all options … Canadians want to be there for Ukrainians."

The prime minister came face to face with the crisis when he spent time with more than a dozen refugees in a Warsaw hostel on Thursday. While Canada has one of the world's largest Ukrainian diaspora communities, at 1.3 million people, many of those fleeing their country would prefer to stay in Europe so they can return to their homeland when the war there ends.

Polish President Andrzej Duda told Trudeau that 100,000 people are coming from Ukraine into Poland every day, swelling his population by 1.5 million refugees. Duda said his country is warmly welcoming its Ukrainian neighbours and wants to give them sanctuary until they can return home.

But Duda did not try to hide the fact that the pressure on his country from a continuing influx of Ukrainians across its eastern border was not stopping and that help from allied countries such as Canada would be essential.

Trudeau said Friday the government will be providing extra resources to support its expedited refugee application process for Ukrainians that eliminates many of the normal visa requirements.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 11, 2022.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press