(CNSNews.com) – A media furor over a leaked phone conversation between senior U.S. diplomats discussing the Ukraine crisis is overshadowing a Kremlin adviser’s accusations of U.S. interference in Ukraine – and his warning that Russia could intervene to maintain its security.
Administration officials are implying that the Russian authorities intercepted and posted on YouTube of an audio recording of a purported phone conversation between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and the U.S. Ambassador in Kiev, Geoffrey Pyatt. The State Department is not disputing its authenticity.
The kerfuffle over the leaked conversation – in which Nuland says, “f*** the E.U.” -- has diverted attention from a newspaper interview published Thursday in which Sergei Glazyev, an adviser to President Vladimir Putin, accused the U.S. of “unilaterally and crudely interfering in Ukraine’s internal affairs.”
Glazyev told the Kommersant daily’s Ukraine edition that the U.S. was funding and arming the Ukrainian “opposition and rebels” trying to oust embattled President Viktor Yanukovich.
Asked whether Russia would actively intervene if the crisis worsened, Glazyev told the Kommersant daily’s Ukraine edition that America’s interference in Ukraine’s internal affairs was a clear breach of a 1994 document Ukraine’s security after Kiev surrendered its nuclear arsenal inherited from the Soviet Union, which had dissolved three years earlier.
Under that 1994 memorandum, he continued, “Russia and the U.S. are guarantors of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and, frankly, they are obliged to intervene when conflict situations of this kind arise.”
Glazyev’s comments were quickly eclipsed by the leaked Nuland-Pyatt recording, with most attention not surprisingly focused on Nuland’s use of an obscenity in relation to the European Union’s stance on Ukraine.
But the conversation more broadly will also feed Russian allegations of U.S. meddling in the crisis, which erupted when Yanukovich reversed course last November on closer ties with the E.U. in favor of stronger links to Russia.
In a bid to end the turmoil, Yanukovich late last month offered two opposition leaders, Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Vitali Klitschko, the posts of prime minister and deputy prime minister respectively. Both declined.
In the leaked conversation, Nuland and Pyatt are heard to favor a role for Yatsenyuk, but to agree that Klitschko should not to be brought into the government.
“I don’t think it’s necessary [for Klitschko to have a role in government],” Nuland is heard to say. “I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
Pyatt agrees: “In terms of him [Klitschko] not going into the government, just let him sort of stay out and do his political homework and stuff.”
Nuland goes on to mention that U.N. Secretary-General Ben Ki-moon is about to appoint an envoy to Ukraine.
“That would be great, I think, to help glue this thing and have the U.N. glue it – and you know, f*** the E.U.” she says.
“Uh, exactly,” replies Pyatt. “And I think we’ve got to do something to make it stick together, because you can be pretty sure that if it does start to gain altitude the Russians will be working behind the scenes to try to torpedo it.”
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki at a daily press briefing did not dispute that the leaked recording was authentic, saying that Nuland has apologized to her E.U. counterparts for the “reported comments.”
“Certainly we think this is a new low in Russian tradecraft in terms of publicizing and posting this [online],” she said. (White House press secretary Jay Carney separately also raised questions about “Russia’s role”.)
A reporter suggested that the recording – with two senior officials apparently discussing brokering a new government for Ukraine, determining its makeup and getting the U.N. to seal the deal – would be seen as demonstrating U.S. interference in a sovereign state’s affairs.
“This is more than the U.S. making suggestions,” the reporter said. “This is the U.S. midwifing the process.”
“Of course these things are discussed,” Psaki replied. “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.”
Asked about Nuland’s evident frustration with the E.U., Psaki said, “I wouldn’t overanalyze one – a couple of words that were used on a phone call as to having larger meaning about some sort of ongoing issue.”
“There are, of course, moments 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, and that certainly has been the case here, which should be no surprise.”
The U.S. and E.U. have not always seen eye-to-eye over Ukraine, with the E.U. uneasy about U.S. proposals considering imposing sanctions on Kiev.
Psaki went on to suggest that Nuland may have learned to swear while working on a Russian fishing boat as a young woman.
“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 in a couple of languages.”
When Secretary of State John Kerry conducted her assistant secretary swearing-in ceremony last September, he said, “As some of you may know, she worked on a Soviet fishing trawler in the Pacific, an incredible undertaking.”
“She has also served in some of the most challenging and demanding foreign policy positions in the U.S. government,” he added, “some of which I am sure made her feel like she wished she would be back on that fishing trawler at times.”
Nuland told the New York Times in 2012 that she “learned to drink aboard a Soviet fishing trawler in my early 20s, so my favorite summer beverage is still an ice-cold Stoli with an ocean view.”