BRUSSELS – The US is trying to laugh off a leak in which it denigrates EU diplomacy on Ukraine, while blaming Russia for a “new low” in spy craft.
A state department spokesowman, Jen Psaki, on Thursday (6 February) indirectly confirmed the authenticity of the audio clip, posted on YouTube, in which its top official on Europe, Victoria Nuland, says “fuck the EU.”
Psaki told press Nuland “has been in contact with her EU counterparts, and of course, has apologised.”
With Nuland taking aim at EU ineffectiveness on Ukraine, Psaki noted: “In every diplomatic relationship where you have small frustrations, where you agree, you disagree, you work through the issues, you talk about what the best step to take is.”
She added, in a joke, the expletive reflects Nuland’s personality rather than a “pervasive [US] viewpoint.”
“You all know Toria pretty well. You may know the story of how she lived on a Russian boat for about eight months when she was 23, and she learned how to perfect perhaps certain words … Russian curse words and curse words on the fishing boat,” Psaki said.
US media also had fun.
“Is it going to be the new rallying cry of the [European] bureau or of the state department itself? … Are you going to get t-shirts made with this phrase on it?” one reporter asked the US spokeswoman.
Psaki and her White House counterpart, Jim Carney, said they have no evidence of who bugged Nuland, but blamed Russia anyway.
Carney noted: “I would say that since the video was first noted and tweeted out by the Russian government, I think it says something about Russia’s role.”
Psaki added: “Certainly, we think this is a new low in Russian tradecraft in terms of publicising, posting.”
More seriously, Psaki defended Nuland’s remarks on US efforts to shape an interim government in Ukraine.
“That shouldn’t be a surprise. Of course, these things are being discussed. It doesn’t change the fact that it’s up to the people on the ground, it is up to the people of Ukraine to determine what the path forward is,” she said.
The same YouTube user posted a second clip of EU diplomats complaining about the US and saying the EU is secretly planning sanctions.
But for its part, the EU is saying nothing.
“We remain engaged with the people of Ukraine to overcome the current difficult situation. We do not comment on leaks, or, alleged leaks, of conversations,” an EU foreign service spokeswoman told EUobserver on Friday.
The leaks come at a tricky moment.
EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton and Nuland herself are in Kiev this week to tempt Ukraine’s almost-bankrupt President Viktor Yanukovych with financial aid in return for political concessions.
EU diplomats fear Russia will intervene more strongly in Ukraine after the Sochi Olympics end on 23 February, harming prospects for a deal.
One Ukrainian opposition activist, who asked to remain anonymous, told EUobserver the financial aid will be worth up to $35 billion and is to be administered by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, on the model of EU “troikas” which manage payments to bailed-out euro states.
But a Ukrainian diplomatic source said the figure sounds “unrealistic.”
The diplomatic contact noted that when Ashton met Yanukovych in Kiev on Wednesday, she spoke only of $15 billion in potential International Monetary Fund aid and €610 million ($825 million) in EU macro-financial assistance.
Ashton last weekend told the Wall Street Journal the EU and the US are working on a new “Ukrainian Plan,” raising expectations of a big amount.
The Ukrainian diplomatic source added that EU diplomats are rowing back on her statement.
“In my view, the EU does not have the money … Every day, they are trying to alleviate the Wall Street Journal comments,” the contact said.