A leaked telephone conversation between Victoria Nuland, neo-con US Assistant Secretary of State and US Ambassador to Ukraine reveals influence of US right on events
When you get caught red-handed, it's usually better just to try and move on. And that is what the US State Department did after a tape of a phone conversation between Victoria Nuland, US Assistant Secretary of State with responsibility for European Affairs, and Geoffrey Pyatt, the US Ambassador to Ukraine, was leaked onto the internet.
They did not bother denying its authenticity, merely noting that it marked a “new low in Russian trade craft” (or spying as the rest of us would refer to it, as close to an admission of authenticity as we are going to get). Which, it must be said, was rather rich given the industrial level of surveillance that the NSA has been carrying out, on allies as well as enemies.
It's not surprising the State Department wanted to move on and ignore it, for in little more than four minutes it exposed the degree to which the US was involved with, and was trying to control, the leaders of the Ukrainian opposition.
Judging from the content of the conversation it was probably held at the end of January, after Yanukovich had offered the post of prime minister to the leader of the main opposition party, Arsenii Yatsenyuk (or “Yats” to the Americans, perhaps finding his name too complicated, or perhaps out of laziness). The deal was to fall through as the opposition turned this down.
The conversation seems to indicate that the US was willing at that point to do some sort of deal with Yanukovich, which rather undermines their current rhetoric about him being a terrible dictator.
Pyatt seems to think that Klitschko should go into government; Nuland disagrees: “I don't think Klitsch should go into the government. I don't think it's necessary, I don't think it's a good idea.”
Pyatt backtracks: “Yeah. I guess... in terms of him not going into the government, just let him stay out and do his political homework and stuff. I'm just thinking in terms of sort of the process moving ahead we want to keep the moderate democrats together.”
The fascist Svoboda party seems to be seen as merely a complicating factor, Pyatt continues: “The problem is going to be Tyahnybok [Oleh Tyahnybok, Svoboda party leader] and his guys and I'm sure that's part of what is calculating on all this.”
But Nuland thinks she has it all under control as she interrupts: “I think Yats is the guy who's got the economic experience, the governing experience. He's the... what he needs is Klitsch and Tyahnybok on the outside. He needs to be talking to them four times a week, you know. I just think Klitsch going in... he's going to be at that level working for Yatsenyuk, it's just not going to work.”
Pyatt relents and says he will set up a conversation with the opposition leaders, a “three-plus-one conversation or three-plus-two with you.”
The way they discuss it you would think that they were running Ukraine, and it was they who were picking the government. They discuss how Klitschko is the ”top dog” and whether he will be able to work with Yatsenyuk. Yatsenyuk after all is worthy and uncharismatic, and is just keeping the seat warm for the real party leader, Julia Tymoshenko, then in prison for corruption.
They then go on to discuss how they are going to seal the deal, something which seems to involve bringing in both the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and US Vice President Joe Biden.
It is also whilst discussing the role of the UN that Nuland utters the words that will grab the head lines: “Fuck the EU.”
As far as they are concerned. The demonstrations may have started over the Ukraine’s relationship with Europe, but the EU is to be carved out of the settlement.
None of this should surprise us.
Victoria Nuland was appointed by Obama, but is an unashamed neo-conservative. Under Bush she served as the principal deputy foreign policy adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney and then as US Ambassador to Nato. She is married to Robert Kagan, a leading neo-con intellectual who amongst other things was one of the founders, and director, of the Project for a New American Century.
Their desire to change governments around the world to those that will bend to the Americans is all part of the project.
And for all the talk of defending Ukrainian independence from Russian imperialism, it is they who sound like colonial Nabobs discussing who should rule a protectorate.
Also in keeping with the neo-con project is the desire to insert between the overt foe, Russia, and the covert rival, the Western European powers (or “Old Europe” as Rumsfeld had it) a band of “New Europe” states, loyal to and dependent on the US rather than the EU, if formerly part of it).
It is rare that we actually get to see statecraft as it is really played out behind the scenes, rather than the actors who are centre stage. Funnily enough though, it is just as sordid, and cynical, as we might expect.
You can read a transcript of the whole conversation on the BBC website.
Alastair Stephens has been a socialist his whole adult life and has been active in Unison and the TGWU. He studied Russian at Portsmouth, Middle East Politics at SOAS and writes regularly for the Counterfire website.