February 7, 2014
German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed outrage over a leaked phone conversation in which a senior US diplomat used an explicative to dismiss the EU’s handling of the Ukrainian crisis. Western officials have attempted to blame Russia for the leak.
“The chancellor considers this statement absolutely unacceptable…and wants to emphasize again that (EU foreign policy chief Catherine) Ashton is doing an outstanding job,” Merkel’s spokeswoman said on Friday.
“The European Union will continue with its intensive efforts to calm the situation in Ukraine.”
Washington’s new top diplomat for Europe, Victoria Nuland, apologized on Thursday for the contents of the leaked conversation, though she offered not further elaboration during a press conference in Kiev on Friday.
“I will not comment on a private diplomatic conversation,” told reporters in Kiev after talks with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders.
“It was pretty impressive tradecraft,” she added in what has been viewed as indirect confirmation of the recording’s authenticity. “Audio quality was very good.”
Merkel’s spokeswoman Christiane Wirtz, offered scant details regarding whether Nuland’s apology had been received, telling the Berlin Press Conference that “contact was made with the chancellery.”
A German foreign ministry spokesman used suspicion that Russia was behind the leak to take a pot shot at the United States for its own sweeping surveillance programs, which included Merkel’s mobile phone.
“This shows you that eavesdropping is stupid,” he said.
Western officials have widely blamed Russia for bugging Nuland’s phone, with Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt taking a swipe at Moscow via twitter.
“Tapping phone calls and releasing carefully selected bits to support propaganda efforts is an age-old method by some type of regimes,” wrote Bildt.
Earlier, Jen Psaki said if Russians were responsible for recording and releasing the private diplomatic conversation, it would be “a new low in Russian tradecraft”.
A four-minute video – titled ‘Maidan puppets,’ referring to Independence Square in Ukraine’s capital – was recently uploaded to YouTube with Russian-language captions.
In the clip, Nuland is heard saying “f**k the EU” while speaking with the American Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyat on how to end the political crisis in Ukraine.
In the phone call, Nuland was heard discussing boxer-turned-politician Vitali Klitschko and “Fatherland” party head Arseniy Yatsenyuk. The conversation centered on who should go into the new government.
“I don’t think Klitsch should go into the government,” she appears to say.
“I think Yats is the guy who’s got the economic experience, he’s got the governing experience,” she added.
A spokesperson for Klitschko refused to comment on an “unauthenticated conversation,” while Nuland hinted on Friday that it would not damage relations between the US and the opposition.
The tape, however, shows strain between Washington and Brussels over how to handle the political crisis that has gripped Ukraine since November, when Yanukovych rejected a trade pact with the EU.
In a separate leaked recording, an Ashton aide can be heard complaining about the United States for telling Ukrainian opposition members that Brussels was “soft” in its reluctance to impose stricter measures like sanctions to punish the Ukrainian government, Reuters reports.
Meanwhile, Nuland said on Friday the United States is prepared to give financial support to Ukraine if the country undertakes the necessary political reforms.
“We have had extensive discussions at all meetings concerning support from the international community, including the United States,” Nuland said.
“[The United States] is ready to support Ukraine if the will quickly move towards the path of protecting human rights, dignity, a de-escalation of the conflict, and political reforms.”