Victoria Nuland, the United States' top diplomat for Europe and Eurasia, apologised yesterday (6 February) after a voice recording of her using crude language about the EU with the US ambassador to Kyiv was published on YouTube.
The intercepted conversation apparently dates from 26 January, when a government reshuffle was being considered in Ukraine following pro-European protests in Kyiv, which had turned violent.
In the conversation, Nuland, who is Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs at the US Department of State, and Geoffrey R. Pyatt, the US ambassador in Kyiv, discuss possible nominations of opposition leaders to form a new government.
Nuland is heard saying “F**k the EU", and the US ambassador answers “exactly”.
The authenticity of the recording [which can be heard here on YouTube] cannot be independently verified, but the fact that Nuland has apologised appears to confirm its authenticity. The White House believes “a Russian hand” is behind the leak.
The planned government reshuffle had seen Arseny Yatsenyuk, the leader of the Batkivschchyna party of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, being offered the job of prime minister. Vitaly Klitschko, a former international boxing champion, was offered the job of deputy prime minister.
Nuland said she did not think that Klitschko should be in government. She said that “Yatse”, meaning Yatsenyuk, “is the guy” to be prime minister, while Klitschko, from the outside, should keep the unity of the opposition. Klitscko working under Yatsenyuk is not going to work, she said.
Both diplomats also exchanged concerns over the third opposition leader, Oleh Tyahnybok, who heads the nationalist Svoboda party. The ambassador advised Nuland not to talk with the three leaders, but only to Klitschko.
Then Nuland spoke about Robert Serry, a Dutch diplomat appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as his representative to deal with the crisis in Ukraine.
Nice to have the UN
Nuland said that the arrival of Serry in Kyiv “would be great".
She added: "I think to help glue this thing, and have the UN glue it, and you know – fuck the EU“, she says. “Exactly”, Pyatt replied, adding that the US wants somebody like Serry “to help midwife this”, in what appears to be testimony of difference between US and EU policies on how to influence the political process in Ukraine.
Both Yatsenyuk and Klitschko have turned down the proposals to join the government, which is led by Serhiy Arbuzov, a close associate of the president, Viktor Yanukovich.
EU officials quoted by Reuters said they would not comment on a "leaked alleged" conversation. The audio clip was first posted on Twitter by Dmitry Loskutov, an aide to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, a diplomatic source quoted by Reuters said. According to his account @DLoskutov, this happened at 9.30 a.m. Brussels time on Thursday.
The release of the recording, whatever its source and authenticity, appears designed to discredit the Western powers, portray Ukraine's opposition as Western pawns and to drive a wedge between Brussels and Washington, Reuters added.
The Ukrainian news website Zerkalo nedeli quoted White House spokesperson Jay Carney saying that Russia was involved in the leaked voice recording.
British daily The Guardian quoted State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki that Nuland “has been in contact with her EU counterparts and of course has apologised for these reported comments”.
Psaki said that if the Russians were responsible for listening to, recording and posting a private diplomatic telephone conversation, it would be “a new low in Russian tradecraft”. Pressed on whether the call was authentic, Psaki said: “I didn’t say it was inauthentic.”
Sergei Glazyev, advisor of Russian President Vladimir Putin, criticised the United States for its push to sanction Ukraine’s leadership.
Speaking to the daily Kommersant-Ukraine, Glazyev accused Nuland of "blackmail" by privately warning wealthy, mostly Russian-speaking oligarchs who back Yanukovich that they risked their foreign assets being seized if they did not hand power to the opposition.
Asked by Kommersant whether Russia might "actively intervene" in Ukraine, he recalled the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, which removed Soviet nuclear weapons from Ukraine.
Glazyev said: "Under the document, Russia and the USA are guarantors of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and [...] are obliged to intervene when conflict situations of this nature arise."
Asked if the President Viktor Yanukovich should now use force to clear the protesters, Glazyev said:
"As for starting to use force, in a situation where the authorities face an attempted coup d’état, they simply have no other course of action."
Russia, he said, was concerned that the country should not split apart. But he suggested that a form of federalism be introduced to give regions substantial powers - to the extent eastern regions might be linked to a customs union with Russia while western Ukraine might have a trade pact with Europe.
- 7 Feb.: Yanukovich to meet with Putin in Sochi;
- 10 Feb.: Meeting of the EU foreign ministers in Brussels, Ukraine on the agenda.