How Justin Trudeau’s people arranged his hurricane visit to war-torn Ukraine – Reuters

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau surprised many with his unannounced weekend visit to Ukraine for a face-to-face meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Though government officials managed to keep the trip a secret, planning still took weeks, according to several senior Canadian government sources who told CBC News how everything was unfolding.

CBC News does not name the sources because they are not authorized to speak publicly on these issues.

The sources said Trudeau told his staff he wanted to visit Ukraine to show his solidarity with the country and its people as they continue to brave the odds against invading Russian forces. Trudeau also said he wanted to see the devastation wrought by Russia with his own eyes.

Canada’s absence from Ukraine had been noted in the diplomatic community. With many other Western leaders making the perilous journey to the war zone in recent weeks, pressure mounted on Canada to take its own step.

To prepare for a possible trip, staff at the Office of the Prime Minister (PMO) reached out to international colleagues who had made similar trips to find out what those experiences were like.

The sources said the PMO had contacted staff from the offices of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Von der Leyen was one of the first European leaders to visit post-invasion Ukraine; On April 8, she traveled to Kyiv to meet President Zelenskyy. She also visited a mass grave in the Bucha suburb, where investigators continue to collect evidence of alleged Russian war crimes.

In this image provided by the Press Office of the President of Ukraine, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy (right) and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson walk during their meeting in downtown Kyiv, Ukraine, on Saturday April 9 2022, walk. (Ukrainian Presidential Office/Associated Press)

Prime Minister Johnson traveled to Kyiv on April 9 for a face-to-face meeting with President Zelenskyy.

The sources said that based on those talks, officials at the Prime Minister’s Office have identified two key factors they should familiarize themselves with before planning the Prime Minister’s trip to Ukraine.

The first factor was security: even if Trudeau traveled with his security service, the entire delegation would be in the hands of the Ukrainian army.

Secret missions, security risks

The second concerned secrecy, or lack thereof: once Trudeau arrived in Ukraine, it was no longer possible to keep the trip confidential.

The common practice when planning a world leader’s visit to a dangerous location is to keep the trip secret until the leader has left that high-risk environment.

For example, as US President, Donald Trump paid a surprise visit to US soldiers in Afghanistan for Thanksgiving in 2019. Journalists had to keep the trip confidential to protect Trump.

In 2018, Prime Minister Trudeau paid a surprise visit to Canadian military crew members serving in the UN mission in Mali.

The prime minister’s office knew there was a risk that Trudeau’s trip to Kyiv would be reported in real time, creating an additional security risk. Prime Minister Johnson’s visit to Ukraine was unexpectedly leaked on social media during his meeting with President Zelenskyy.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin attend a meeting with President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Ukrainian Presidential Intelligence Service/Handout/Reuters)

A trip to Ukraine by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was also unexpectedly announced in advance, as President Zelenskyi announced he would meet the US delegation at a conference release the day before their scheduled visit.

Trudeau’s visit was a closely guarded secret. Canadian media, including CBC News, only found out about Trudeau’s trip after he left Canada, on the condition that it not be reported until it was made public.

The Prime Minister and his delegation left Ottawa on Saturday morning aboard a Canadian Air Force Airbus CC-150 for an eight-hour flight to Rzeszów in southeastern Poland. From there, a senior government source said, they took a train to Kiev Central Station. Arriving in Ukraine, they traveled in a convoy of two dozen vehicles, including police escorts and an ambulance.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Secretary of State Melanie Joly, National Security and Intelligence Advisor Jody Thomas, Chief of Staff Katie Telford, Deputy Chief of Staff Brian Clow and photographer Adam Scotti were among Trudeau’s small delegation.

JTF2 on board

A senior Canadian government source, speaking to CBC News on condition of confidentiality, confirmed that the delegation was accompanied by the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command’s Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2) — an elite unit working in counterterrorism, protective services and reconnaissance is active.

The trip was made under a power outage; Unusually, the Prime Minister traveled without a Canadian media entourage. Reporters from local news agencies were not given details of Trudeau’s itinerary and were officially informed that the Ukrainians were responsible for security and for the entire visit.

But a senior Ukrainian official speaking on the merits told CBC News that Trudeau’s trip to Irpin to visit the devastated community was arranged directly by Canadians through Ukraine’s Interior Ministry. Local and international media were aware of the details and were able to capture the moment.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrive for a press conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, May 8, 2022. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters)

Finally, the embargo was broken when photos of Trudeau’s visit to Irpin – badly damaged by Russia’s attempt to take the capital Kyiv earlier in the war – were shared on social media by the city’s mayor meeting the prime minister.

Back in Ottawa, as the photos began circulating on Twitter, Trudeau’s communications director, Cameron Ahmad, released a statement confirming the trip.

A senior source said the decision to travel is in flux up until the time of departure, as safety changes in a war zone. The source said the team needs to be nimble and ready to adapt.

A source said there was no particular reason to travel to Ukraine on that specific date. Much of the coordination depended on the time and resources of Ukrainian officials to host a delegation, the source said.

Trudeau’s visit also took place on the same day that the G7 countries were to discuss the war in Ukraine. Trudeau and Zelensky sat together in Kyiv for the hour-long virtual phone call with the heads of state and government of the G7 countries.

Trudeau’s trip coincided with other high-profile visits from US First Lady Jill Biden and Bono and The Edge of rock band U2.

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