A Poor Choice of Words

Note to all those in Europe who are still enraged about US spying: At least the NSA didn’t post Angela Merkel’s phone calls on YouTube.

But I digress. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland probably torpedoed any hopes she may have had of being appointed America’s envoy to Brussels when she spoke rather, um, dismissively of the EU in a telephone conversation with the US Ambassador to Kiev, Geoffrey Pyatt. If you can get past those three unfortunate words, however, it’s actually an interesting conversation. 

What Nuland and Pyatt are discussing are efforts to get the more formal (and internationally acceptable) parts of the Ukrainian opposition, represented by Arseniy Yatseniuk and Vitaly Klitschko, to accept a power-sharing agreement with embattled President Viktor Yanukovych. The fundamental motive here is to sideline the right-wing nationalists, represented by Oleg Tiagnybok and the ‘Pravy Sektor’ group, among others, and to head off further violence. The fear in Washington is that, should the violence continue, the nationalists’ standing will rise, Klitschko and Yatseniuk will become marginalized, and any kind of deal will be unattainable.

Washington’s frustration with Brussels, then, comes from a feeling that the Europeans don’t share the Americans’ sense of urgency. Which side is right is another question, but the Americans clearly feel that time is running out on a positive solution. They also have reason to believe that Moscow will try to scuttle a meaningful power-sharing agreement, particularly one that might actually shift the balance of power in Kiev (which, of course, would be the point of a power-sharing agreement, at least from the opposition’s perspective).

And so Washington has worked hard to pull strings, not in Kiev (as Moscow is suggesting), but in New York – to get Ban Ki-moon to throw the UN’s weight behind a deal (which he did). The fact that Washington felt the need to get the UN (and other international players) on board speaks again to their frustration with the EU’s perceived indecisiveness, but it speaks even more loudly to their lack of real leverage with the political players in Ukraine. While Moscow seeks to portray the Americans as puppet-masters, a real puppet-master wouldn’t need to call Ban Ki-moon to get the attention of Yatseniuk and Klitschko.

Whatever mistakes Washington may have made leading up to this (and there have been plenty), this phone call reveals diplomats trying to make a deal. Which raises the question, what does Moscow want?

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