Brussels, Kyiv, Moscow React To Leaked Nuland Phone Call
February 07, 2014
by Daisy Sindelar
The United States has apologized for the content of a leaked telephone call in which U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland apparently uses strong language to dismiss EU involvement in Ukraine and doubts opposition leader Vitali Klitschko's ability to occupy a senior government post. RFE/RL looks at reactions in Russia, Ukraine, and the European Union.
In the leaked phone call, which seems to be between Nuland and the U.S. Ambassador to Kyiv, Geoffrey Pyatt, she uses the strongest possible language to express her disdain for European inaction in Ukraine.
The European Union's role in attempting to broker a solution to Ukraine's political standoff between president Yanukoych and antigovernment protesters comes in for particularly harsh criticism, with Nuland appearing to suggest that the UN would do a better job.
'[It] would be great, I think, to help glue this thing and have the UN help glue it, and you know f*** the EU!' she said.
The US state department has not directly confirmed the authenticity of the audio clip, but U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that Nuland 'has been in contact with her EU counterparts and, of course, has apologized for these reported comments"
The EU has remained largely silent on the issue, with the exception of a spokeswoman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel who today called the comments 'totally unacceptable.'
Paul Ivan, an analyst with the Brussels-based European Policy Center, said most European officials will likely forgive the heated words -- and that some may even agree with them.
'A lot of member states are also, let's say, frustrated with the slow pace of decision-making in the EU, so there is some empathy towards the [U.S.] views,' he said. 'Obviously it's not exactly the best kind of language that the EU would like to hear from their strategic partners. [But] it's clear that it was a sign of frustration and not a general attitude towards the EU.'
In the call, Nuland also seems to express reluctance to grant UDAR opposition leader Klitschko a spot in a future government, saying he is inexperienced. That view appears to differ from EU heavyweight Germany, whose Foreign Ministry backs Klitschko over Batkivshchina's Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
The EU response may be relatively muted because of its own reported leak. The same YouTube channel that posted the leaked U.S. call on February 4 posted a second recording that appears to catch Helga Schmid, deputy to EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton, complaining about the United States to the EU's ambassador to Kyiv, Jan Tombinski.
The recording appears to show Schmid expressing annoyance at the United States for criticizing the EU for being 'too soft' to impose sanctions and other pressure tactics against Ukraine. 'It's very annoying,' she adds.
Some EU observers have speculated that the synchronized leaks appear aimed at driving a wedge between the EU and the United States, or simply discrediting both sides -- a theory that, for some, only bolsters suspicion that Russia is behind the leaks.
The leak scandals come at a time when the EU is grappling with its own internal divisions over Ukraine. Many member states are eager to move forward with sanctions and have grown increasingly angry with countries, such as Germany, that are stalling.
Tempers are also running high over remarks by Ashton, who announced that Western powers were cooperating on a major financial plan for Ukraine in an interview with 'The Wall Street Journal' last week. The remark appeared to catch a number of EU and U.S. officials unawares and underscored a worrying lack of coordination between Ashton and other EU officials.
Ivan says that, if anything, the leaked calls have sent the EU and the United States an important message. 'They should work better together,' he said. 'And they should also have more secure phone lines.'
Nuland appears to have reserved her sharpest language for the EU, but the rest of her reported conversation may have hit Ukrainians equally hard.
First there was her dismissal of Klitschko as a component of any future Ukrainian government. 'I don't think Klits should go into the government,' she said, using a nickname for the boxing champion and UDAR party leader. 'I don't think it's necessary; I don't think it's a good idea.'
The conversation, which appeared to take place on January 25, came as Klitschko was mulling an offer by President Viktor Yanukovych to enter government as deputy prime minister.
Klitschko has yet to respond to Nuland's dismissive remarks, but her matter-of-fact tone in discussing government posts may have disappointed many Ukrainians who prefer to see the Euromaidan movement as homegrown, and have even complained about the lack of U.S. and EU support as the protests continue.
Both Nuland and Pyatt also seem to express doubts about the opposition troika's third member, Oleh Tyahnybok, the head of the nationalist Svoboda party, who they say should remain 'outside' government.
Yuriy Syrotyuk, a Svoboda lawmaker, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service that he saw no reason to pay attention to a revelation that many see as a provocation by Russian secret services (FSB).
'There's no reason to take it seriously,' he said. 'The FSB conducts some kind of operation, and what, we're supposed to react like fish to bait? Let the FSB prove that this is a genuine conversation. I don't see any reason for us to respond.'
The leaked telephone conversation, with its detailed discussion of Ukrainian government posts, also unintentionally lends fuel to Russian arguments that the United States is masterminding the Euromaidan protests.
But some Ukrainians reserved their anger not for Nuland, but for Russia, which they believe was behind the leak. Serhiy Sobolev, a Batkivshchina deputy, said the content of Nuland's conversation is not the key issue.
'The key question is who was listening in?' he asked. 'Because everyone in dictatorships and democracies alike was shedding crocodile tears about the U.S. wiretapping that [Edward] Snowden revealed. But what's happened now is literally a clear-cut example that this practice is being used not only by Americans, but by Russians. So either you accept that this is going on or you stop going around telling people that Americans shouldn't eavesdrop.'
The United States was quick to point the finger at Russia for rapidly tweeting news of the story, if not leaking the recordings themselves. Some pointed remarks have emerged in the Russian press since then, with the state-friendly 'Komsomolskaya Pravda' quipping, 'The U.S. assistant secretary of state and the U.S. ambassador in Kyiv agreed on how they will set up Ukraine. Ukraine itself was not asked for its opinion.'
The paper also refers to Nuland as 'the daughter of Moldovan Jews' and adds, 'Madame Nuland doesn't only swear. She also gives detailed instructions on how the three puppets from Kyiv's Maidan should act.'
'It will now be difficult to accuse Russia of meddling,' the newspaper added.
The state-run RAT television station went one step further in seeking to distance itself from the leak, saying one of the clips posted on YouTube 'attributes the authorship to Ukraine's security services.'
Dmitry Loskutov, a Russian deputy prime ministerial aide, has fought off accusations that he was the first to tweet a link to the secret recording. The 'disseminating started earlier,' he tweeted. He added that his Twitter post on February 6 was being used as a pretext to 'hang the blame' on Russia.
Other media simply grappled with the difficulty of translating some of Nuland's spicier phrasing.
'Kommersant' noted drily: 'The phrase used by the assistant secretary of state can be translated in different ways.'
RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service and correspondent Claire Bigg contributed to this report
Copyright (c) 2014. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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