During Trudeau’s 2015 election campaign, he vowed to confront Putin on issues such as Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Last July, as just one example, he made his opinion clear once again when he said: “Canada has been unequivocal in our condemnation of Vladimir Putin and Russia.”
He followed that comment with a list of criticisms of Putin’s actions — the incursion into the Donbass in Ukraine, Putin’s support for Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad and the alleged Russian role in the poisonings in Salisbury, U.K.
There’s also the issue of his Foreign Affairs Minister, Chrystia Freeland, being banned from Russia several years ago, in response to Canadian sanctions on Russia.
As a journalist prior to being elected as an MP, she was sharply critical of Putin, calling him an authoritarian and “really dangerous.”
As foreign minister, Freeland, who is of Ukrainian descent, has echoed the prime minister’s comments condemning the regime.
Trudeau doesn’t get much face time with the Russian leader. Russia was kicked out of the G8. At the APEC summit, Trudeau will attend in Papua, New Guinea, Russia is usually represented by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
WATCH: Russian president Vladimir Putin arrives last to Armistice ceremony
But this weekend, Trudeau and Putin were among the dozens of world leaders in Paris for the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the First World War.
The ceremony was followed by the inaugural Paris Peace Forum, an initiative of French President Emmanuel Macron.
And at the opening ceremonies, Trudeau and Putin were seated side by side. In an exchange that lasted about 30 seconds and was caught on camera, the pair appears to be having a friendly chat. Trudeau extends his hand for a shake, seems to smile, and, while talking with his hands, gives Putin a thumbs up.
Remember — unequivocal condemnation.
Unequivocal condemnation and a thumbs up — the Western symbol for “all good.”
The following day at a media availability in Paris, Global News asked the prime minister how he squares his harsh words with that hand signal.
Trudeau said he used the opportunity to highlight the “significant sacrifices” made by the Russian people during both the First and Second World Wars.
And then came the thumb. He told Putin it was important to have Russia in the room for discussions about global peace.
But no unequivocal condemnation to his face.
“Mr. Putin knows well our position and the position of the Canadian people on his illegal incursion in Ukraine, in his interference in democratic processes around the world and Russian actions in Salisbury,” said Trudeau.
The prime minister suggested his thumbs up can indeed jive with his critical position.
“I have been unequivocal and will continue to. This was a moment to highlight the fact that the world was coming together for peace,” he told Global News.
“Russia is probably one of the most difficult relationships that Canada has,” said national security expert Stephanie Carvin.
She said she understands “the looming remembrances of war” may have softened the tone of Trudeau’s comments, but she highlights the commitment he made to confront Putin.
“it is important for Canada to make its views known that Russia needs to start playing a more constructive role in international politics and stop its meddling in Canada and other countries, whether they be Western or in fact Syria.
For Canadian examples, Carvin points to the recent case of Russia being identified as having carried out a cyber attack at the World Anti-Doping Agency in Montreal, and next year’s federal election.
“Canada has basically made it known that it believes it’s going to have interference in the 2019 elections and it’s pointing the finger at Russia, even if it’s not naming them,” Carvin said.
Global News asked the prime minister Monday if he was concerned about Russian interference in 2019, and he did not answer directly.
“We have been working very hard in the past years to strengthen our democracy in Canada to make sure Elections Canada and indeed political parties have the tools to protect citizens and our democracy from outside interference,” Trudeau said.
“This is something that is ongoing and we will continue to work with experts and with Canadians to ensure our elections happen in the right way.”
Just a couple of hours after Trudeau’s news conference, Global Affairs Canada issued a statement condemning Russian actions, this time over the “illegitimate elections” in Russian-backed areas of eastern Ukraine. (The elections happened Nov. 11, but the statement was sent to media Nov. 12 and was dated Nov. 10).
“Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected,” reads the statement, which is attributed to the department and no human in particular.
“We condemn Russian actions that disregard international norms and further threaten lives in eastern Ukraine.”
Clearly, no thumbs up there.