As Russia went to war with Ukraine, here’s who met Canada’s ambassador behind the scenes

During the first two months of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Canada’s ambassador in Moscow dined with high-level diplomats, gathered information from local sources and hosted allies at the embassy.

Nearly 100 pages of documents obtained by the Star through a freedom of information request paint a partial picture of Ambassador Alison LeClaire’s travel and networking schedule for the crucial months of March and April 2022.

In the eyes of a former ambassador, the documents show how LeClaire toed a cautious line, « serving Canadian interests under strict constraints and difficult circumstances. »

The Canadian Embassy in Moscow, despite being Canada’s diplomatic nerve center in Russia, was described by a Russian analyst with Global Affairs Canada (GAC) as « very understaffed » in August 2021, according to internal emails reviewed by the Star via an access-to-information request.

In an April report, Stéphane Dion, in his role as Canada’s special envoy to the European Union and Europe, wrote that « 10 years ago, Canada had approximately 50 Canadian employees in its embassy in Moscow; now it has been reduced to just 16.

Plunged into crisis, with the support of her reduced crew at the embassy, ​​LeClaire met connections across the city – and the continent – ​​as the war raged on.

LeClaire, named our Ambassador to Russia in 2019, has hosted several events for Ambassadors in the city, usually hosted at the Canadian Embassy and sometimes dining out with close allies.

On March 4, just days after the invasion began, LeClaire hosted a formal luncheon for other Moscow-based ambassadors, although the attendees were not disclosed. G7 foreign ministers held a meeting the same day, reiterating their condemnation of Russia’s « unprovoked and unjustifiable war of choice ». Two weeks later, LeClaire hosted a lunch with ambassadors from Croatia, Italy, Lithuania, Egypt and Portugal in a bid to « share more information and cooperate, » according to the forms of hospitality expenses.

On March 18, LeClaire flew to Paris for four days of « strategic discussions, » mandated by the Prime Minister’s Office, on the Canada-Europe relationship. All of Canada’s ambassadors based in Europe were expected to attend the meetings, which were intended to « facilitate coherence and coordination » between GAC and Canadian diplomats on the continent.

At the end of the month, LeClaire met with one of « the few remaining Canadian businessmen in Moscow » at the Linbistro, a fancy Italian restaurant near the embassy, ​​to find out how the city’s business community was reacting to the » crisis situation « . An employee of the Canada-Eurasia Chamber of Commerce (recently renamed Canada Eurasia Russia Business Association) also attended the meeting, according to the documents.

Since February, Canada has imposed sanctions on more than 1,150 individuals and entities from and in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, while GAC now advises any Canadian company « engaging in business activities in Russia or with Russian entities to consider seeking legal advice ».

LeClaire and the head of immigration at the embassy brought together ambassadors from the Netherlands, Poland, Romania and Slovakia, as well as representatives from the Red Cross and the UN Refugee Agency , for lunch in early April.

Participants discussed “the impact of war on refugee flows” as well as humanitarian issues in Russia.

The Netherlands, Poland, Romania and Slovakia have all taken in significant numbers of Ukrainians since late February, with 1.2 million Ukrainian refugees registering for temporary protection in Poland alone as of June 30. . About 80,000 Ukrainian citizens and Canadian permanent residents returning from their original Ukraine arrived in Canada between January 1 and August 28.

On April 12, LeClaire and his deputy, Brian Ebel, met with two Moscow-based representatives of the Orthodox Church in America over lunch to “gather information on non-public aspects of Russian Orthodox stance on the war. fostering an « already strong relationship » between the Embassy and the Church, according to LeClaire’s Home Events Log.

Two and a half months after that meeting, Canada imposed sanctions on Vladimir Mikhailovich Gundyayev, head of the Russian Orthodox Church (a separate entity from the Orthodox Church in America) and close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

LeClaire dined with New Zealand’s top diplomat in Moscow, Sarah Walsh, on April 22 at Geraldine, an upscale French bistro, to discuss the « current geopolitical situation, » likely a bureaucratic shortcut for the impacts of the invasion. Russian. Canada and New Zealand both imposed sanctions on Russia on April 19: Canada against Putin’s close aides, including his two adult daughters, and New Zealand against 18 Russian financial institutions, including the central bank from Russia.

As the war hit the two-month mark in late April — and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov declared a « new phase » in the conflict — LeClaire, who also serves as Canada’s ambassador to Uzbekistan and Armenia, traveled to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, for meetings.

Over the course of a week, she had dinner with two employees of the Armenian Foreign Ministry, and then separately with the US Ambassador to Armenia. LeClaire also went to dinner with an expert from a Yerevan-based think tank to gain insight into « Armenia’s foreign policy (including negotiations with Turkey and with Azerbaijan) as well as domestic political developments. » .

On her final evening in Yerevan, LeClaire dined with heads of mission from the UK, Sweden and the EU to “advance key Canadian interests,” then attended a 20-guest reception for the Armenian-Canadian community at the restaurant of the Hyatt hotel, with the Canadian government footing the bill.

Two months later, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly announced that Canada would open a full embassy in Armenia with a resident ambassador.

Chris Westdal, who served as Canada’s ambassador to Ukraine from 1996 to 1998 and then ambassador to Russia from 2003 to 2006, had nothing but praise for LeClaire and his team.

He told the Star that the documents are proof that LeClaire was « pursuing his activities in Yerevan and Moscow in a sensible and conscientious manner, serving Canadian interests under strict constraints and difficult circumstances. »

A GAC spokesperson said Canadian diplomats in Moscow « provide valuable analysis of the situation on the ground that can help counter Putin regime propaganda, identify potential targets for future sanctions, and support the overall response. » of Canada to the Russian invasion of Ukraine ».

Nicole Jackson, an associate professor at Simon Fraser University who specializes in Russian and Canadian foreign policy, told the Star that the documents show « a bit of how our government and, in particular, the embassy in Moscow were reaching out to various allies and friends. , trying to understand the events in Ukraine and their geopolitical significance.

When LeClaire returned to Moscow from Yerevan, she hosted a working lunch at the embassy to « advance key interests with respect to the current geopolitical situation. » This time, LeClaire hosted a disparate group, dining with ambassadors from Brazil, Bulgaria, France, India, Ireland, Mexico, Spain and Switzerland.

When filing her expense reports for April, LeClaire requested an advance of 200,000 rubles, or about $4,000, for the month of May, as she noted that “Canadian credit cards (are) no longer accepted in Russia”, forcing him to “pay in money for provisions for the hospitality of the HOM (head of mission)”, such as coffee, water and sweets.

Ted Fraser is a freelance journalist with a Masters in International Affairs from Carleton University, who previously worked as an analyst at Global Affairs Canada.


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