Washington Bureau

02.06.14

State Dept Official Caught on Tape: ‘Fuck the EU’

A senior official’s private conversation got taped and put on YouTube, and as she’s planning a deal to end the crisis in Ukraine, she has some harsh words for her European Union counterparts as well as Ukrainian opposition leader Vitali Klitschko.

In the wake of revelations the NSA spied on foreign officials, the State Department’s top official for Europe has been caught on tape planning a deal to end the Ukraine crisis and she had a message for her European counterparts – “Fuck the EU.”

YouTube video uploaded by an anonymous user has publicly revealed a private conversations between Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, and Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine. In the tape, the two officials discuss a plan to broker a deal between the Ukrainian government led by Viktor Yanukovich and the Ukrainian opposition, which is led in part by former boxer Vitali Klitschko.

The origin of the recording is unclear. It was upload by a user named “Maidan Puppets,” a reference to the Maidan Square in Kiev where protesters have fought the government and the Russian accusation  that the protesters are puppets of the United States and the West. The video was first reported in the Kyiv Post.

Nuland told Pyatt she had discussed the plan with U.N. Undersecretary for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, a former senior U.S. Department official, and that he would appoint a U.N. representative to help move it forward. Vice President Joe Biden would also be brought into the plan at the right time, according to Nuland.

“That would be great to help glue this thing and to have the U.N. help glue it,” she said. “And you know, fuck the EU.”

“I think we’re in play,” Pyatt tells Nuland about a plan to join the opposition and government into one unit, apparently being attempted by the U.S. government behind the scenes. The tape may have been referring to a late January power sharing deal that has since been rejected by opposition leaders. After Pyatt worries that there are “troubles in the marriage” inside the Ukrainian opposition, Nuland warns Pyatt against the idea of appointing Klitschko to be deputy prime minister and suggests the former boxer should stay out of any new Ukrainian government.

“I don’t think Klitschko should go into the government. I don’t think it’s necessary. I don’t think it’s a good idea,” said Nuland.

Nuland thought Ukrainian opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk would be in charge of the new government and Klitschko wouldn’t be able to get along with him. “It’s just not going to work,” she said.

“Exactly, we’ve got to do something to make this thing stick together, because if it does start to gain altitude, the Russians will try to do something behind the scenes to torpedo it,” responded Pyatt.

If the Russians did want to torpedo the idea, taping and leaking Nuland’s private conversation would be a great way to do it, experts said. Toby Gati, the former White House senior director for Russia, defended Nuland, saying that she was just recognizing that the EU was becoming an obstacle for deal making in Ukraine.

Nuland "was expressing in shortened form the frustration with the inability of the EU to come up with any kind of sugar to make the medicine go down,” said Gati. “What she is saying is we’ve got a crisis here, we’ve got to move, we can’t go by EU business as usual.”

There’s an irony in a senior U.S. official getting caught under secret surveillance, Gati noted, especially in the aftermath of revelations by Edward Snowden about NSA surveillance of foreign leaders.

“This should be a wake up call about the way you do business and maybe this calls for some new communications equipment,” said Gati. But the news isn’t all bad, she said, because the tape shows the U.S. is actively working to end the crisis. “Finally, the U.S. is using its leverage and getting involved,” she said. “It’s actually trying to make policy, that’s the good part.”

The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.

UPDATE: At Thursday's State Department press briefing, Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: "Certainly we think this is a new low in Russian tradecraft in terms of publicizing and posting this... I don’t have any other independent details about the origin of the YouTube video.”