Ukraine crisis: Leaked phone call embarrasses US

Listen: The conversation was leaked online, as Mark Mardell reports

An apparently bugged phone conversation in which a senior US diplomat disparages the EU over the Ukraine crisis has been posted online.

A voice resembling that of Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland refers to the EU using a graphic swear word, in a conversation apparently with the US ambassador to Ukraine.

The US said Ms Nuland had "apologised for these reported comments".

The EU and US are involved in talks to end months of unrest in Ukraine.

Start Quote

I think Yats is the guy that, who's got the economic experience, the governing experience... What he needs is Klitsch and Tyahnybok on the outside”

End Quote Voice said to be Victoria Nuland

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 Mr Yanukovych to abandon closer ties with Brussels.

Russia has itself accused Washington and the EU of meddling in Ukraine.

'Not a good idea'

The alleged conversation between Ms Nuland and the US ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, appeared on YouTube on Thursday.

The 4min 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 graphic swear word about the EU.

Vitaly Klitschko, 4 Feb The phone call seems to suggest the US does not think Vitaly Klitschko should join the government
Protests in Kiev, 6 Feb The protests are continuing in Kiev's Independence (Maidan) Square
An opposition supporter waves an Ukrainian flag on top of a barricade in a street heading to Kiev"s Independence Square, the epicenter of the country"s current unrest, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Some of the protesters have been there since November
Opposition supporters march toward the parliament in Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. On Thursday, some opposition protesters marched to parliament in a show of force

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.

Ukraine unrest: Timeline

21 November 2013: Ukraine announces it will not sign a deal aimed at strengthening ties with the EU, sparking protests

17 December: Russia agrees to buy $15bn of Ukrainian government bonds and slash the price of gas it sells to the country

16 January 2014: Parliament passes law restricting the right to protest

22 January: Two protesters die from bullet wounds during clashes with police in Kiev; protests spread across many cities

25 January: President Yanukovych offers senior jobs to the opposition, including that of prime minister, but these are rejected

28 January: Parliament votes to annul protest law and President Yanukovych accepts resignation of PM and cabinet

29 January: Parliament passes amnesty law for detained protesters, under the condition occupied buildings are vacated

The female speaker says that Mr 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 Jan Psaki said: "I didn't say it was inauthentic."

Ms Psaki said Ms Nuland had "been in contact with her EU counterparts and of course has apologised for these reported comments".

An EU official told the BBC: "The EU is engaged in helping the people of Ukraine through the current political crisis. We don't comment on alleged leaked telephone conversations."

Ms Psaki 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."

Sochi summit

Ms 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."

US state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki did not deny the authenticity of the recording

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 $20m (£12.3m; 14.8m euros) a week on Ukrainian opposition groups, supplying "rebels" with arms among other things.

And he suggested that Moscow could also intervene.

Mr Yanukovych held talks in Kiev with Ms Nuland on Thursday, at which he said he favoured dialogue and compromise with the opposition.

The Ukrainian leader is to meet President Putin on Friday on the sidelines of the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Moscow has promised a $15bn (£9.2bn) loan to Ukraine but said it would not be released in full until the formation of a new government in Kiev.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and his cabinet resigned last month as President Yanukovych sought to calm street protests.

Also in Kiev, thousands of Ukrainian opposition activists, some carrying shields and baseball bats, marched from their camp on Independence (Maidan) Square to parliament in a show of force.

They came close to government supporters who are camped next to parliament behind barricades manned by hundreds of police, but the march passed off peacefully.

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