An apparently bugged phone conversation in which a senior US diplomat denigrates the EU over the Ukraine crisis has been posted online.
A female voice resembling that of Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland refers to the EU using a swear word, in a conversation apparently with US ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt.
The US said Victoria Nuland had “apologized for these reported comments”.
The EU and the US are involved in talks to end months of unrest in Ukraine.
Mass anti-government protests erupted in Ukraine in late November after President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign a far-reaching association and trade agreement with the EU – under heavy pressure from Moscow.
Russia has been widely accused of intervening in Ukraine, using its economic clout to persuade Viktor Yanukovych to abandon closer ties with Brussels.
Russia has itself accused Washington and the EU of meddling in Ukraine.
The alleged conversation between Victoria Nuland and the US ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, appeared on YouTube on Thursday.
The 4 min 10sec video was entitled “Maidan’s puppets” in Russian – a reference to the square in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, where pro-EU protests have been held for months. A transcription of the whole conversation was also posted in Russian.
At one point, the female speaker mentions the UN and its possible role in trying to find a solution to the Ukraine stand-off.
She says: “So that would be great, I think, to help glue this thing and have the UN help glue it and you know…” she then uses the swear word about the EU.
The male replies: “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.”
The two officials also discuss frankly the merits of the three main Ukrainian opposition leaders – Vitaly Klitschko, Arseniy Yatseniuk and Oleh Tyahnybok.
The female speaker says that Vitaly Klitschko, the former heavyweight boxing world champion, should not be in any new government.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
She adds: “I think Yats [Arseniy Yatseniuk] is the guy who’s got the economic experience.”
US officials refused to confirm or deny the tape’s authenticity, but state department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said: “I didn’t say it was inauthentic.”
Jennifer Psaki said Victoria Nuland had “been in contact with her EU counterparts and of course has apologized for these reported comments”.
She also played down the comments about Ukraine’s opposition, saying: “It shouldn’t be a surprise that at any points there have been discussions about recent events and offers and what is happening on the ground.”
Jennifer Psaki hinted that the tape could have been leaked by Moscow, pointing out that a senior Russian official was one of the first to draw attention to the audio.
She said: “We think this is a new low in Russian trade-craft. This is something they’ve been actively promoting, posting on, tweeting about.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney added: “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.”
Earlier on Thursday, a senior aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Washington of interfering in Ukraine’s domestic affairs.
Sergei Glazyev said the US was spending $20 million (14.8 million euros) a week on Ukrainian opposition groups, supplying “rebels” with arms among other things.
And he suggested that Moscow could also intervene.
Viktor Yanukovych held talks in Kiev with Victoria Nuland on Thursday, at which he said he favored dialogue and compromise with the opposition.
The Ukrainian leader is to meet Vladimir Putin on Friday on the sidelines of the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
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