By Elise Labott
A leaked audio recording of a phone call allegedly catches the top U.S. diplomat to Europe working on a behind-the-scenes deal to end the Ukrainian political turmoil, and using profanity to express strong frustrations with inaction and indecision by the European Union in resolving the crisis.
In the conversation, voices closely resembling those of Assistant Secretary for European Affairs Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt discuss a plan to broker a deal between the Ukrainian government and the opposition.
At one point the woman, who sounds like Nuland, can be heard saying "f**k the EU."
The recording was uploaded on YouTube on February 4 by an anonymous user named "Maidan Puppets," and had been viewed more than 11,000 times as of Thursday. The name of the user appears to be a reference to Maidan Square in Kiev, where protestors have fought the government and Russian accusations that the protestors are puppets of the West. The call also was posted on the Kyiv Post, a leading Ukrainian newspaper.
The call cannot be independently verified and it is unclear when or where it was recorded.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki declined to speak about the details of a private conversation, but did not say the call was inauthentic.
The U.S. is pointing a finger at Russian involvement in the matter of the leaked call. Russia has accused the U.S. in meddling in Ukraininan affairs, and U.S officials suggested Moscow likely tapped Nuland and Pyatt's phone conversation and leaked it out of concern about a potential deal between the government and the opposition
Although she said she didn't have independent detail about the origin of the YouTube video, Psaki said the fact the recording was first tweeted out by an employee in Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin's office was an "indication" they played a role.
"Certainly we think this is a new low in Russian trade-craft," Psaki said, using a term that refers to a nation state's espionage activities. "This is something they've been actively promoting, posting on."
The conversation appears to address Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych's January 25 offer of a power-sharing deal with opposition leader Arseniy Yatseniuk as prime minister and Vitaly Klitschko as deputy prime minister in a new national unity government. Both men refused Yanukovych's offer.
The woman sounding like Nuland says, "I don't think it's necessary, I don't think it's a good idea," for Klitschko to have a role in the government, adding that she favors Yatseniuk to be the new prime minister.
"I think Yats (Yatseniuk) is the guy who's got the economic experience, the governing experience," Nuland says, according to the recording.
The man sounding like Pratt refers to Vitali Klitschko as the "top dog" among opposition leaders, but suggests Klitschko is too inexperienced to hold a top government post.
"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," he says. "I'm just thinking in terms of sort of the process moving ahead, we want to keep the moderate democrats together."
Referring to a perceived lack of pressure by the European Union in putting pressure on President Yanukovych, Nuland tells Pratt she has spoken to the United Nations, and that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon agreed to send someone to broker the discussions.
"That would be great to help glue this thing and to have the U.N. help glue it," Nuland said. "And you know, f**k 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."
"I think we are in play," Pyatt adds.
The recording ends with Nuland saying she can get likely get Vice President Joseph Biden to make a phone call, presumably to Yanukovych "for an atta-boy and to get the deeds to stick." Biden has talked to Yanukovych by telephone at least four times in the last month.
The State Department's Psaki said, "It is no secret that Ambassador Pyatt and Assistant Secretary Nuland have been working with the government of Ukraine, with the opposition, with business and civil society leaders to support their efforts, and it shouldn't be a surprise that at any point there have been discussions about recent events and offers and what is happening on the ground."
She added that Nuland had apologized to her EU counterparts.
Maja Kocijancic, a spokesperson for EU foreign policy chief Cathy Ashton, told CNN, "The EU is engaged in helping the people of Ukraine through the current political crisis. We don't comment on alleged leaked telephone conversations."