KIEV: The United States tried to contain fallout Friday from a leaked phone conversation in which a top diplomat uses the f-word regarding the European Union’s handling of the crisis in Ukraine.
The embarrassing diplomatic incident comes as Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych was due to hold crisis talks with Russian counterpart and ally Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Washington and Brussels have engaged in a diplomatic standoff with Kiev and Moscow over mass protests that erupted in Ukraine in November when Yanukovych rejected a pact with the EU in favor of closer ties with former Soviet master Russia.
But the leaked phone call appears to reveal US frustration with the EU over the handling of the long-running crisis.
Washington’s new top diplomat for Europe, Victoria Nuland, apologized Thursday for her comments.
“F*** the EU,” Nuland says in what appeared to be a recent phone call with US ambassador to Kiev, Geoff Pyatt, which was somehow intercepted and uploaded onto YouTube accompanied by Russian captions.
The US State Department was left fuming after the leak, pointing the finger at Russia for allegedly bugging the diplomats’ phones.
“Certainly we think this is a new low in Russian tradecraft,” said spokeswoman Jen Psaki, who did not dispute the authenticity of the call.
In the recording, which went viral after being re-posted by an aide to Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, Nuland and Pyatt discuss frankly which opposition figures should go into the new Ukrainian government.
“That would be great I think to help glue this thing and have the UN glue it and you know, f*** the EU,” Nuland says, in apparent frustration at policy differences.
The conversation appeared to have been held shortly after Yanukovych accepted his pro-Russian government’s resignation on January 28.
Nuland, currently in Kiev, is expected to speak with the media later Friday.
State Department spokeswoman Psaki said Nuland had already apologized to her counterparts in Brussels, who refused to be drawn into the controversy on Friday.
“The EU is engaged in helping the people of Ukraine through the current political crisis. We don’t comment on leaked alleged telephone conversations,” said a spokeswoman for EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton, refusing further comment.
Russia also had no official reaction to the call while the aide who posted it, Dmitry Loskutov, said that he was browsing the Internet when he saw it on his “friend’s feed in a social network.”
The leak came as diplomatic tensions over Ukraine flared between the two former Cold War foes, with Putin’s economic adviser Sergei Glazyev accusing Washington of funding the protesters and even supplying them with ammunition.
“According to our information, American sources spend $20 million a week on financing the opposition and rebels, including on weapons,” Glazyev, a hawkish adviser viewed as the Kremlin pointman on Ukraine told the Ukrainian edition of Kommersant newspaper shortly before the leak went viral.
In Russia’s Black Sea city of Sochi, Yanukovych was expected to discuss a critical bailout deal for his crisis-hit country.
In December, Putin promised Yanukovych the $15 billion bailout but said last week the financing would not be released in full until the formation of a new government in Kiev.
Only $3 billion has so far been transferred to Ukraine.
Yanukovych flew to Sochi shortly after naming his close ally Sergiy Arbuzov as acting prime minister and is likely to try to convince Moscow that the government is still committed to the terms of the bailout.
Meanwhile a prominent Ukrainian activist who was kidnapped, tortured and left for dead last month said he believed Russian special forces were behind the ordeal.
Dmytro Bulatov, who was dumped in a forest outside Kiev in late January, said his captors were most interested in his alleged connections to the United States.
“I told them that the American ambassador had given me $50,000,” said Bulatov, the organizer of protest group Automaidan. “It was so scary, it was so painful that I asked them to kill me. I lied because I could not stand the pain.”
“I had a thought that they were Russian special forces” because of the way they spoke and “professionally” inflicted wounds, he said in a press-conference in Vilnius.