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29th Aug 2016

Ukraine leak designed to 'split' EU-US diplomacy

  • Schmidt (l) with Ashton and Ukrainian opposition MPs in Kiev on Wednesday (Photo: eeas.europa.eu)

The publication of what seem to be two sensitive US and EU diplomatic conversations on Ukraine is designed to spoil relations between the allies, EU diplomatic sources say.

The audio clips were uploaded on YouTube by a user called “Re Post” on Tuesday (4 February) and already have several thousand clicks each.

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In the alleged US clip, which appears to date to Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych’s offer of top jobs to opposition MPs on 25 January, Victoria Nuland, a senior US state department official, is speaking to Geoffrey Pyatt, the US ambassador to Ukraine.

They bat around ideas on which of the MPs should be Prime Minister in an interim government.

Nuland notes that she wants a UN diplomat to go to Kiev to seal an accord on the US-model cabinet.

“So that would be great, I think, to help glue this thing and have the UN help glue it and, you know, fuck the EU,” she says.

“Oh exactly, and I think we’ve 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,” Pyatt replies.

In the alleged EU clip, a senior EU foreign service official, Helga Schmid, speaks in German to Jan Tombinski, the EU ambassador to Ukraine.

The EU clip appears to date to 31 January, when EU foreign service chief Catherine Ashton put out a statement on tortured Ukrainian activist Dmytro Bulatov.

Schmid says: “The Americans are going around telling people we're too weak while they are tougher on sanctions. I talked to Cathy [Ashton] about what we have already discussed and she is on the same page: We have to do it but we have to prepare it in a very clever manner. But what you should know is that it really bothers us that the Americans are going around naming and shaming us - this is what several journalists have told us. Maybe you can speak to the US ambassador?”

She adds: “We have just issued a very strong statement on Bulatov and we are going in that direction. We just don't want to advertise it too loudly because we think it's more effective this way. It annoys me when the press is reporting that the EU is not on the side of freedom.”

Tombinski replies: “We are not in a race who is the toughest. We have other instruments.”

Schmid notes: “I don't want that Cathy is put in a corner - this can hurt, politically. This doesn't work and Cathy will speak to [US secretary of state] Kerry about it.”

The US state department and the EU foreign service declined to comment on Thursday.

But an EU diplomatic source told EUobserver the EU clip is authentic and that Schmid’s remarks - “we have to do it” and “going in that direction” - refer to potential sanctions by EU countries.

The contact said Russian or Ukrainian intelligence services are probably responsible for the interception: “These recordings are coming out precisely because the Russians and the Ukrainians are afraid the EU and US will co-operate together on Ukraine. They are calculated to split this unity.”

The EU diplomat noted the Nuland expletive reflects “a general mood among the Americans, and not just on Ukraine, that they are getting tired of EU diplomacy, that we are not effective even in our own neighbourhood.”

The contact said the US talk of being "in play" in a chess game reflects its own “naivety” on Ukraine, however.

The leaks will likely fuel Russia’s claim the US and EU are manipulating events in Ukraine.

A senior aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Sergei Glazyev, said on Thursday in the Ukrainian edition of the Kommersant newspaper: "There is information that within the grounds of the American embassy, there is training for fighters, that they're arming them.”

He noted this would violate the terms of a 1994 accord, the Budapest Memorandum, and that Russia would be “obliged to intervene.”

He said the West is “blackmailing” Yanukovych by threatening financial sanctions.

He added that Ukrainian authorities should break up the protest camp: “As for starting to use force, in a situation where the authorities face an attempted coup d'etat, they simply have no other course of action.”

Note: The original text inserted an editorial interpellation - “[sanctions]” - into the Schmid quotes. The story was changed at 4pm Brussels time on 7 February to clarify that Schmid herself did not use the word "sanctions"

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