Angela Merkel doesn’t appear to be in a forgiving mood, even after US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland apologized for her remarks in a leaked telephone call that included, “F*** the EU.” Merkel, who spent the last few months outraged over surveillance of her own phone conversations by the NSA, expressed outrage over Nuland’s commentary, and insisted that the EU would remain at the forefront of efforts to defuse the Ukrainian crisis:
An angry US State Department pointed the finger at Russia for allegedly bugging the diplomats’ phones.
“Certainly we think this is a new low in Russian tradecraft,” US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
But the irritation in Europe focused squarely on Washington rather than the Kremlin — a worrying signal for the US administration amid continuing fallout over its controversial phone and Internet surveillance work.
“The chancellor considers this statement absolutely unacceptable … and wants to emphasise again that (EU foreign policy chief Catherine) Ashton is doing an outstanding job,” a spokeswoman for Merkel said on Friday, referring to the video.
“The European Union will continue with its intensive efforts to calm the situation in Ukraine.”
There is some irony to this, of course. The phone audio leak was an obvious attempt by an interested party to drive a wedge between the EU and the US on Ukraine. What party would (a) “interested” and (b) has the resources to penetrate sensitive communications between two US State Department officials? Only a few intel agencies would have those capabilities — we hope — and among them would be the UK, Germany, and Russia. In this case, the cui bono answer would obviously be Russia, but Merkel seems a lot less interested in the outrage over listening in on conversations and pretty doggoned interested in what was said.
Of course, the Russians aren’t going to admit to anything, but I don’t think anyone is mystified by the origin of the phone tap:
This time U.S. officials suggest Russia was apparently listening in on a top U.S. diplomat, Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland, when she made some profane comments about her European Union colleagues’ slow response to the crisis in Ukraine.
Her comment about the E.U. was blunt and profane: “F*** the E.U.”
The Russians quickly posted the YouTube audio of her comments on Twitter just as she was arriving in Ukraine for meetings.
“The video was first noted and tweeted out by the Russian government. I think it says something about Russia’s role,” White House spokesman Jay Carney – a former Moscow bureau chief for Time Magazine and a Russia expert – said Thursday.
The only thing surprising about this is that the Russians blew their cover on such a minor kerfuffle. This release must have the State Department revamping its comms security to shake off any taps now, which means the Russians will have to penetrate it all over again. On the other hand, State doesn’t have a track record of keeping security cutting-edge either, so perhaps Moscow isn’t all that concerned.
Or, more likely, this is a warning to the West to stay out of Ukraine:
The tense Russian-American jockeying over the fate of Ukraine escalated on Thursday as a Kremlin official accused Washington of “crudely interfering” in the former Soviet republic, while the Obama administration blamed Moscow for spreading an intercepted private conversation between two American diplomats. …
An audiotape of the conversation appeared on the Internet and opened a window into American handling of the political crisis here, as the two diplomats candidly discussed the composition of a possible new government to replace the pro-Russian cabinet of Ukraine’s president, Viktor F. Yanukovych. It also turned the tables on the Obama administration, which has been under fire lately for spying on foreign leaders.
The developments on the eve of the Winter Olympics opening in Sochi, Russia, underscored the increasingly Cold War-style contest for influence here as East and West vie for the favor of a nation of 45 million with historic ties to Moscow but a deep yearning to join the rest of Europe. The tit for tat has been going on since November, when Mr. Yanukovych spurned a trade deal with Europe and accepted a $15 billion loan from Moscow. Months of street protests have threatened his government, and American officials are now trying to broker a settlement — an effort the Kremlin seems determined to block.
Overall, this proves once again that (a) nations spy on each other, and (b) Russia is not our friend.