Ukraine’s security must ensure the safety of President Zelensky from any risk of assassination, but also let him regularly appear to reassure the Ukrainians.
Immediately after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the special military operation in Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky was immediately taken to an underground bunker in the capital Kyiv, where he continued to lead the country and conduct military operations, phone calls with foreign leaders, or interviews.
Target Number One
Despite claiming to be the “Target Number One” of Russian forces, Zelensky refused to leave Kyiv, building his image as a wartime leader.
Zelensky’s frequent presence and motivational speeches are seen as important in maintaining the fighting spirit of the Ukrainian army and people.
In that context, keeping the 44-year-old president safe is seen as the key to maintaining the resistance of the Ukrainians. However, Zelensky’s security units must find a way to balance his safeguards with ensuring the President continues to appear in the media.
“The trick is measures of security precaution while allowing Zelensky to continue in his important role,” said a former UK special forces officer.
Ukrainian officials have highlighted the risks which President Zelensky has to face, revealing that they have captured a group of assassins sent to assassinate him.
“The special operation of the Kadyrovites special forces of the Republic of Chechnya to assassinate the President Zelensky was detected and neutralized by us,” said Oleksiy Danilov (secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine), said on March 1. It is not clear how close the assassination team got to President Zelensky before being destroyed.
Will Geddes (a security expert who has worked with many heads of state), said Zelensky was most likely protected by Ukraine’s most secret and elite special forces.
“An underground bunker is not a safe place to stay in a long time. I don’t think Zelensky’ll stay in one place for more than a day. When you stay in one place, the chance of being attacked is high,” Geddes said.
Russian forces can use electronic bugs and intelligence to locate Mr. Zelensky. Once the target location is detected, instead of deploying assassination forces, Russia can completely fire high-precision cruise missiles.
Secure satellite phone
CNN quoted a senior US official as saying that the US maintains regular contact with President Zelensky through a secure satellite phone that they provide to the Ukrainian government.
Previously, confidential phone calls between US and Ukraine were conducted via the US embassy in Kyiv. After the embassy evacuated from Kyiv, they transferred the satellite phone to President Zelensky. This security device allows Zelensky to communicate with the US even using his mobile phone.
Zelensky also confirmed that he is constantly moving in many locations in Kyiv and is protected by strong security forces.
In the process of moving, they need to stay away from areas that are likely to be attacked, avoiding following a certain pattern.
The curfew, checkpoints, and vigilance of the Ukrainians also make the difficulty for assassins in tracking Zelensky’s location.
Experts say that unpredictable behavior is the key to the safety of President Zelensky.
Mark Hipp (a former security official at the U. S. Department of State), said that despite continuing to post videos online, Zelensky should avoid any live updates and delay posting times on social media to protect his privacy. Russian intelligence agencies were unable to track his movements in real-time.
In addition, experts say counterintelligence is also very important.
Former Secret Service agent Tim Miller said the Ukrainian president’s security team would have to proactively predict Russia’s next move. Miller added that security teams will have to remember that they are in a brainstorm to protect the President anywhere, anytime.
The US has urged Ukraine not to keep senior officials in the same place for a long time, and urged them to move to a safer place outside of Kyiv.
The US and its allies also want Kyiv to set up a site for Ukraine’s leaders to use if the capital falls. A retreat of President Zelensky in the Carpathian Mountains, western Ukraine could be used. However, Ukrainian officials did not say whether the facility is equipped with a bomb shelter or a good communication system.
Stay in Kyiv
Despite rumors and offers to leave Ukraine, President Zelensky has insisted he will stay in Kyiv.
“Rumors that I have left Ukraine are appearing every day. I am still here, in Kyiv, in my office. Head of the Presidential Administration Andrey Borisovich is also here. No one has fled,” Zelensky took a video in his office in Kyiv, posted on Instagram on March 5. He still often updated videos on social networks.
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) March 6, 2022