Justin Trudeau in Ukraine, a trip with multiple security issues

Radio-Canada spoke to three security experts to better understand how this kind of quick trip, in a risk zone, is prepared.

1. Not announcing it

This is perhaps the most important rule, security-wise, and the one that has been followed by several heads of state and foreign ministers who have visited Ukraine in recent weeks: wait once you are there or, , once left, to publicly announce a trip to the country at war.

An unannounced visit is much easier to manage than an announced visitexplains Normand Desrochers, who was Jean Charest’s bodyguard when he was Premier of Quebec.

When the leader’s itinerary is revealed in advance, he adds, the lone wolf or the criminal organization – or in this case, the Russian military – has much more time and information at its disposal to prepare for a possible attack.

Look what happened with Antonio Guterres, says former RCMP Commissioner Pierre-Yves Bourduas. The UN Secretary General’s trip at the end of April was announced days before his arrival. When he was in kyiv, Russian forces dropped bombs on the Ukrainian capital. Vladimir Putin’s troops may not have been targeting Mr. Guterres himself, but certainly by disclosing his intentions in advance, the secretary-general became an easier target, according to Mr. Bourduas.

Antonio Guterres surrounded by soldiers and personnel.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres visits Ukraine on April 28

Photo: Reuters/GLEB GARANICH

On the contrary, if the movement of a foreign dignitary into a war zone is kept secret until the last minute, the greatest risk often becomes a random attack. You’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, but you’re not necessarily directly targeted initiallyexplains retired bodyguard Normand Desrochers.

In the case of Justin Trudeau, his presence in Ukraine was made public a little earlier than expected on Sunday morning, when he was seen in Irpin by local media who relayed the information on Twitter.

We knew it was a possibilitysays a government source familiar with the matter, but at least he was already in the country.

2. The fewer participants, the better

To avoid travel details being leaked in advance, usually only a small number of people are involved.

Discretion is certainly the most important thing in this kind of visitsays Gaston Côté, retired brigadier-general.

Several people in the prime minister’s office weren’t even aware of the move until Sunday.

In total, in addition to Justin Trudeau, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, four political staff members were on the trip, as well as the Canadian ambassador to Ukraine, confirms a government source. .

This source did not want to specify how many security guards accompanied the delegation, but Normand Desrochers explains that the idea, often, is not to arrive in too many numbers, precisely to observe discretion.

3. A team on the ground before the arrival of Justin Trudeau

Even before Justin Trudeau travels to a foreign country, his office normally sends one or more people there to prepare the ground. In the case of a deployment in a risk area, this kind of upstream work is normally carried out by the RCMP or the Canadian Armed Forces, or by members of both organizations, explain the security experts.

Justin Trudeau and Volodymyr Zelensky at a joint press briefing in Ukraine.

Justin Trudeau reopened the Canadian Embassy in Kyiv during a surprise visit to Ukraine.

Photo: Getty Images / SERGEI SUPINSKY

Before the start, we were in contact with Ukrainian teams. It is with them that we determined the activities on sitesays a government source familiar with the matter.

The fact that Canada trained Ukrainian soldiers for several years no doubt enabled it to develop reliable contacts among local troops, says retired bodyguard Normand Desrochers.

As for the decision to meet in person Volodymyr Zelensky, a man clearly targeted by Moscow, Mr. Desrochers believes that there is of course a risk in doing so, but at the same time, after more than 70 days of conflict, force is to see that his close guard is loyal to him and that she has managed to protect him so far.

4. The presence of Chrystia Freeland criticized

Volodymyr Zelensky speaks with Chrystia Freeland, who Justin Trudeau and Mélanie Joly are watching.

Prime Minister Trudeau meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, along with Chrystia Freeland and Mélanie Joly.


What has been criticized, however, since Sunday evening, is the presence of Chrystia Freeland alongside Justin Trudeau.

The commander in chief [premier ministre] must never travel with his vice-commander [la vice-première ministre]let alone in a war zone […]wrote Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus on Twitter.

Several security experts have also expressed reservations. All of a sudden we’d have both number one and number two hit by either a plane crash, or the worst-case scenario…, says retired brigadier Gaston Côté. He believes that this kind of approach is not recommended, from a security point of view.

Behind the scenes, a government source defends this choice to send the two most senior government officials on the same trip. All safety considerations have been taken seriouslyshe says.

NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice also supports the federal government, believing that it was a strong message to see [Justin Trudeau] and Chrystia Freeland at the same time. It doesn’t worry mehe adds.

In Canada, as in the United States, there is no clear rule, or even precedent, concerning the procedure to follow if ever the Prime Minister is unable to exercise his functions. However, the Cabinet regularly draws up a succession list. Chrystia Freeland is at the top of this ranking, but other members of the Council of Ministers could replace her, if she was unable to do so.


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