Brussels fury after top US envoy said ‘f**k EU’ in leaked recording
Joe Biden realises Europe is ‘indispensable partner’ says expert
The new US administration appears to be just as opposed to the Russia-backed Nord Stream 2 pipeline as the old one. The US position was made starkly clear by the new Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. During his confirmation hearing last week, he said: “I’m determined to do whatever I can to prevent that completion.
“Joe Biden will have us use every persuasive tool that we have to convince our friends and partners including Germany not to move forward with it.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she wanted to discuss the pipeline and related US sanctions with Mr Biden’s new team.
Asked at a press conference in Berlin whether the arrest and jailing of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, as well as the expected revamp of EU-US relations under the new President, have had an impact on her opinion about Nord Stream 2, Mrs Merkel said: “My basic attitude has not changed yet to the point where I say that the project should not exist.”
Her comments are likely to ignite tensions with Washington, which was already said to be unimpressed with the EU signing an investment pact with China earlier this year.
Mr Biden has repeatedly stressed the need for transatlantic cooperation to put pressure on Beijing and Moscow.
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It is not the first time the US and the EU have been embroiled in a diplomatic row, though.
The frustration of the Obama administration at Europe’s hesitant policy over the pro-democracy protests in Ukraine was brought into the open in 2014.
In an audio clip posted on YouTube, voices resembling those of Victoria Nuland, then US assistant Secretary of State, and Geoffrey Pyatt, then ambassador to Ukraine, were heard talking by telephone about how to resolve the stand-off in Kiev after two months of anti-government protests.
In apparent exasperation with Brussels, the voice resembling Ms Nuland at one point declared: “F**k the EU.”
The US State Department did not directly confirm that the leaked audio clip posted on YouTube captured the voices of Ms Nuland and Mr Pyatt.
However, the then Department’s spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that Ms Nuland had been “in contact with her EU counterparts” and had “of course apologised for those reported comments”.
In an attempt at damage limitation, US officials also tried to turn focus onto Russia, suggesting that Moscow had leaked the audio recording.
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They pointed to an early tweet from Dmitry Loskutov, an aide to the Deputy Prime Minister of Russia Dmitry Rogozin, that said: “Sort of controversial judgment from Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland speaking about the EU.”
Former White House spokesman Jay Carney did not discuss the content of the conversation recorded in the clip, but he too invoked the Loskutov tweet.
He said: “I would say that since the video was first noted and tweeted out by the Russian government, I think it says something about Russia’s role.”
At the State Department, Ms Psaki said that if the Russians were responsible for listening to, recording and posting a private diplomatic telephone conversation, it would have been “a new low in Russian tradecraft”.
Pressed on whether the call was authentic, Ms Psaki said: “I didn’t say it was inauthentic.”
A spokeswoman for then EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton stated that Brussels would not comment on a “leaked alleged” conversation.
However, the following day, Christiane Wirtz, Deputy Government Spokesperson and Deputy Head of the Press and Information Office of the German Federal Government, stated Mrs Merkel termed Ms Nuland’s remark “absolutely unacceptable”.
The former President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, also condemned the remark as “unacceptable”.
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The conversation underlined mounting US frustration at the EU’s position on the democracy protests in Ukraine, as Brussels had held back from joining US threats to impose sanctions.
Mr Biden, who at the time was Vice President, wrote about how he really felt about Brussels in his memoir ‘Promise Me, Dad’.
In one extract, he referred to a call he had with Arseniy Yatsenyuk ‒ the former Prime Minister of Ukraine ‒ shortly after the Dignity Revolution in 2014.
His priority was to make sure Ukrainian sovereignty was preserved in the face of aggression from Russian President Vladimir Putin but Mr Biden feared he could not count on EU support.
He wrote: “The European Union and NATO were likely to abandon Ukraine as a hopeless cause.
“The country would be pulled back into Russia’s toxic orbit.
“The revolution of Dignity would come to nothing.”
Mr Biden didn’t give up, though, and the EU ended up coming to Ukraine’s rescue.
The US President did everything he could to make sure Dignity’s goals were secured ‒ calling it a “remarkable people’s protest”.
He added: “Ukrainians seemed about to lose their fight for democracy and independence.
“Putin had used the instability of the unfolding revolution as an opportunity to seize, by military force, a part of Ukraine called Crimea.”
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