MOSCOW – It was a conversation not meant for public consumption: two senior U.S. diplomats discussing the political crisis in Ukraine in strikingly frank language.
But within days, the bugged phone call landed on YouTube and was avidly tweeted by Russian officials, who cited it as proof of Western meddling in Ukrainian affairs.
The Russians denied they had any role in bugging the conversation, but they clearly relished in the embarrassment of the U.S. at a time when the ties between the two countries have been strained by a number of disputes, including Syria and most recently, Ukraine.
A look at recent attempts by Russia to jeer at the U.S.
DIPLOMAT IN BLOND WIG
Last May, Russian counterintelligence agents ambushed Ryan Fogle, a 29-year-old U.S. diplomat who they said was trying to recruit a Russian officer. They said he was caught red handed with a recruitment letter, two wigs, sunglasses, a compass and a wad of cash. The spy toolkit that seemed to come straight from a movie became the subject of mockery on Russian state TV for weeks.
By harboring NSA leaker Edward Snowden and refusing U.S. demands to extradite him, Russia has dealt a blow to the United States. Though President Vladimir Putin denied that Russian security agencies were controlling Snowden, many security analysts were skeptical, saying it was inconceivable the Russians wouldn't have rummaged through a trove of secrets in his possession.
The Snowden affair and the spotlight it has shone on U.S. eavesdropping activities also offered the Kremlin an opportunity to turn the tables following criticism of Russia's rights record.
In the bugged telephone conversation posted on YouTube, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, the top U.S. diplomat for Europe, and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, discuss efforts to resolve the ongoing political crisis in Ukraine and the potential roles of Ukrainian opposition leaders. At some point, a voice, believed to be Nuland, is heard making a disparaging reference to the European Union: "F--- the EU."
Washington stopped short of blaming Russia for recording the call, but the White House did note that a Russian government official tweeted a link to the video. And the State Department said the incident marked a "new low in Russian tradecraft."
The Russian government official, who posted the link, said he came across the recording while surfing the Web and denied any Russian government role. But some other Russian officials and lawmakers quickly pointed at the conversation as indication of the U.S. interference in Ukraine's home affairs.