Anytime modern diplomacy starts to resemble an episode of “The Americans,” the Russian-spy drama set in the 1980s, you know there’s trouble.
That’s what happened this past week when a private phone call featuring the assistant secretary of state for Europe, Victoria Nuland, became public on the Internet. In the call, which was first tweeted out by an aide to Russia’s deputy prime minister Thursday morning, Nuland is heard saying “F— the E.U.”
Her brutal assessment of the European Union came in the context of E.U. efforts to end the political standoff in Ukraine. In the call, Nuland and the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, discuss an offer from Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovychto to bring two opposition leaders into the government as a way to break the gridlock. One of the opposition leaders is Vitali Klitschko. (Yes, the boxer.)
The Obama administration quickly pointed the finger at Russia for the taping and the releasing of Nuland’s conversation. “The video was first noted and tweeted out by the Russian government. I think it says something about Russia’s role,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday.
Why Russia? Because it doesn’t want the United States entering the Ukraine situation, and poisoning the well with the E.U. is one way to complicate U.S. involvement. The Russians even have a word for secretly recorded conversations: “kompromat,” meaning “compromising materials.” (How Cold War of them.)
Nuland, for coming off as an undiplomatic diplomat, you had the worst week in Washington. Pozdravlyayem, or something.
Chris Cillizza covers the White House for The Washington Post and writes The Fix, its politics blog.