February 7, 2014
Just as a senior US diplomat arrived in Ukraine today in an effort to quell its crisis, a leaked tape seems to show her in a loose, profanity-laced strategy session aimed at confounding Russia and empowering a favored opposition figure.
The audio clip, an apparent conversation between US assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland and US ambassador to Ukraine Geoff Pyatt that the Kremlin tweeted out, coincides with new accusations from Moscow that the US is paying and arming Ukraine’s opposition.
Given the stakes—Russia is intent on not “losing” Ukraine to the European Union, while the EU is trying to pull it closer—the tape complicates international efforts to end the months-long confrontation.
The US State Department has not commented on the tape’s authenticity, but it appears to be genuine. It seems to have been recorded around Jan. 25, when Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych offered the prime minister’s job to opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk and a deputy prime minister’s slot to former boxer Vitali Klitschko.
It is hard to judge whether Nuland is as powerful in the events as she indicates, but in the tape she puts on a show of manipulating all the pieces while referring to people by her own set of diminutives; Pyatt himself keeps with their real names.
Yatsenyuk is “Yats,” and “the guy with the economic experience, the governing experience” to be prime minister. She suggests that he should accept Yanukovych’s offer, but that Klitschko (“Klitch”) should stay “on the outside” along with the other member of the opposition leadership, Oleh Tyahnybok, head of the far-right Svoboda party. Combined, she calls them “the big three.”
In order to persuade Klitschko of the wisdom of her strategy, Pyatt suggests that Nuland present it to him by phone. The problem, Pyatt says, is that Klitschko has been the “top dog” in the opposition so will not easily stand aside. “You reaching out directly to him helps with the personality management among the three,’ Pyatt says.