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September 24, 2017

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US diplomat sorry for cursing EU in bugged call

KIEV--The United States tried on Thursday to defuse a potential dispute with its European allies after the leak of an embarrassing phone call in which a top U.S. diplomat cursed the EU response to the Ukraine crisis.

The leak of the bugged conversation came as Ukraine's embattled president, Viktor Yanukovych, flew to Sochi, Russia late Thursday for crisis talks with Russian counterpart and ally Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the opening ceremony for the Winter Olympics.

Washington and Brussels have engaged in a diplomatic standoff with Kiev and Moscow over mass pro-EU protests that erupted in Ukraine when Yanukovych rejected a pact with the EU under Russian pressure in November.

But the leaked phone call appears to reveal U.S. frustration with the EU's handling of Ukraine, which is torn between factions leaning towards the European Union and its past master, Russia.

Washington's new top diplomat for Europe, Victoria Nuland, apologized Thursday to EU counterparts after she was caught cursing the European response to the crisis in Kiev.

"F**k the EU," Nuland allegedly says in what appeared to be a recent phone call with U.S. ambassador to Kiev, Geoff Pyatt, which was somehow intercepted and uploaded onto YouTube accompanied by Russian captions.

U.S. officials, while not denying such a conversation took place, refused to go into detail and pointed the finger at Russia for allegedly bugging the diplomats' phones.

"Let me convey that she has been in contact with her EU counterparts, and of course has apologized," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

While Psaki said she had no independent details of how the conversation was captured and uploaded onto the social networking site, she added: "Certainly we think this is a new low in Russian tradecraft."

Nuland, who took over late last year as assistant secretary for European affairs, and Pyatt appear to discuss Yanukovych's offer last month to make opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk the new prime minister and Vitaly Klitschko deputy prime minister. Both men turned the offer down.

Nuland, who in December went down to Independence Square in Kiev in a show of support for the demonstrators, adds that she has also been told that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is about to appoint former Dutch ambassador to Kiev, Robert Serry, as his representative to the Ukraine.

"That would be great I think to help glue this thing and have the U.N. glue it and you know, f**k the EU," she says.

Yanukovych Arrives in Sochi

Yanukovych, following talks with Nuland, left Kiev for Russia's Black Sea city of Sochi, where he was expected to discuss a critical bailout deal for his crisis-hit country.

"He has arrived," a source familiar with the situation told AFP ahead of Friday's opening ceremony for the Winter Olympic Games. "The talks (with Putin) can happen any time now."

In December, Putin promised Yanukovych the US$15 billion bailout but said last week the financing would not be released in full until the formation of a new government in Kiev.

The protesters earned concessions from Yanukovych — notably the dismissal of the government and the scrapping of controversial anti-protest laws.

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