The woman, who sounds like Nuland, can be heard on the recording saying “fuck the EU,” while the man, who sounds like Pyatt, refers to Vitali Klitschko as the “top dog” among opposition leaders but implies that Klitschko is too inexperienced to hold a top government post.
The Kyiv Post could not verify the authenticity of the conversation. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv had no comment today, but said that Nuland might address the issue during a press conference in Kyiv on Feb. 7.
The Associated Press, citing a State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the matter, said the audio sounds like an authentic recording of a call that occurred last week.
If true, the disclosure represents a potentially big breach in security, which had been tightened at U.S. embassies following the WikiLeaks disclosures of several years ago.
The leak appears to be a smear campaign aimed to split the EU and U.S., who have been critical of the Ukrainian government’s handling of the more than two months of anti-government protests. The tape is also likely to fuel Russia’s claims the U.S. and EU are manipulating and even funding the protest movement in Ukraine.
The leaked phone call was posted on Feb. 4 by YouTube user Re Post, who offers no biographical information or profile photograph.
Among the first to tweet the audio recording was an aide to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, named Dmitry Loskutov, who also wrote: “Sort of controversial judgment from Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland speaking about the EU.”
Speaking to reporters on Feb. 6, White House spokesman Jay Carney on Feb. 6 said the tweet appeared to be a part of what has become a struggle between pro-Moscow and pro-Western camps in Ukraine. He did not comment on the source of the audio or elaborate on its contents, but asserted that Russia could be behind it.
“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,” Carney told reporters, according to The Associated Press.
In her daily press briefing, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki went further.
“Certainly we think this is a new low in Russian tradecraft in terms of publicizing and posting this,” she said. “I don’t have any other independent details about the origin of the YouTube video.”
The leaked phone call appears to have been made following President Viktor Yanukovych’s Jan. 25 offer to opposition leader Arseniy Yatseniuk to be prime minister and Klitschko to be deputy prime minister, offers both men refused. Mykola Azarov resigned as prime minister on Jan. 28.
“The Klitschko piece is obviously the complicated electron here,” Pyatt told Nuland, according to the leaked phone call. “Especially the announcement of him as deputy prime minister. And you’ve seen some of my notes on the troubles in the marriage (of opposition leaders) right now. So we’re trying to get a read really fast on where he is with this stuff. But I think your argument to him, which I think you’ll need to make… is exactly the one you made to Yats (Yatseniuk), and I’m glad you kind of put him on the spot in where he fits in in this scenario. And I’m very glad he said what he said in response.”
The voice allegedly of Nuland adds that Klitschko should not be given a role in government.
“I don’t think it’s necessary, I don’t think it’s a good idea,” she says.
“Yeah… I guess… in terms of him not going into the government, just let him sort of stay out and do his political homework and stuff,” the voice resembling Pyatt says. “I’m just thinking in terms of sort of the process moving ahead, we want to keep the moderate democrats together,” he adds, referring to Yatseniuk’s Batkivshchyna and Klitschko’s UDAR parties.
He said “the problem is going to be (Oleh) Tiahnybok and his guys” – the leader of the nationalist Svoboda Party, which has been at the frontlines of violent clashes with police and has claimed responsibility for storming government buildings.
Pyatt says he’s “sure that’s part of what Yanukovych is calculating on all of this.”
It’s clear that Nuland favors Yatseniuk, according to the phone call.
“I think Yats (Yatseniuk) is the guy who’s got the economic experience, the governing experience … what he needs is Klitsch (Klitschko) and Tiahnybok on the outside. He needs to be talking to them four times a week, you know. I just think Klitsch (Klitschko) going in, he’s going to be at that level, working for Yatseniuk, it’s just not going to work,” she says.
“Yeah, I think that’s right,” says Pyatt.
Discussing the dynamic among the three opposition leaders, he calls Klitschko the “top dog” who will probably take his time meeting with his fellow opposition leaders.
Nuland should reach out directly to him, he says, and “help with the personality management among the three.”
Before the call ends, Nuland tells the male voice she has “one more wrinkle” for him.
Commenting on European pressure put on Yanukovych – or lack thereof – she explains that she has spoken to the United Nations and has an official there who said that Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, agreed to send someone to Ukraine to “help glue this thing and to have the UN glue it.”
She adds: “And you know, fuck the EU.”
“Exactly,” Pyatt replies. “And I think we got to do something to make it stick together, because you can be sure that if it does start to gain altitude the Russians will be working behind the scenes to torpedo it. Let me work on Klitschko, and I think we should get a Western personality to come out here (to Ukraine) and midwife this thing,’’ he adds.
The phone call ends with Nuland saying she can get U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden to make a phone call, presumably to Yanukovych, “for an attaboy and to get the deeds to stick.” Biden has talked to Yanukovych by telephone at least four times in the last month.
Re Post posted a second audio clip that appeared on YouTube of a conversation in German presumably between Helga Schmid, deputy secretary general of the EU’s External Action Service (EAS), and EU Ambassador to Ukraine Jan Tombinski. The two voices discuss how the EU is seen by the U.S. as being “soft” on Ukraine.
Kyiv Post editor Christopher J. Miller can be reached at [email protected].
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