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EU downplays Ukraine rift with US despite second tape

07 February 2014, 18:20 CET
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(BRUSSELS) - A second tape fuelled concerns Friday of a US-EU rift over Ukraine after the apparent phone hacking of a top US diplomat cursing the bloc's stance, but Brussels downplayed the leaks as a sideshow.

In a fresh leak uploaded on the Internet, a senior EU official allegedly discusses the situation in Ukraine and differences with Washington, especially over sanctions on Kiev.

Helga Schmid, a senior official on EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton's staff, says the "Americans are going around telling people we're too weak while they are tougher on sanctions."

But Ashton is actually "on the same page" and only wants to prepare the ground, the diplomat is heard telling the EU's ambassador to Ukraine, Jan Tombinski.

"What you should know is that it really bothers us that the Americans are going around naming and shaming us," Schmid says in the tape.

A first tape was leaked on the Internet of Washington's new top diplomat for Europe, Victoria Nuland, disparaging the European Union's stance on the Ukraine crisis.

"That would be great I think to help glue this thing and have the UN glue it and you know, fuck the EU," Nuland allegedly says.

Nuland in Kiev Friday did not dispute the tape's authenticity but refused to comment "on a private diplomatic conversation."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has described the remarks as unacceptable but Brussels would not be drawn on the Nuland tape.

"We don't comment on leaked alleged telephone conversations," said a spokeswoman for Ashton.

Yanukovych sparked the crisis in November when he unexpectedly ditched an EU association accord five years in the making as Russia upped the pressure to bring its Soviet-era satellite back into the fold.

Since then, sustained and often violent pro-EU protests have played out as a struggle between the West and Russia for the country's future.

"I cannot imagine that the two tapes are accidental," said one EU diplomat, who downplayed the episode as a "sideshow" to getting the Ukraine crisis solved.

"I am sure the EU and US are united in wanting to solve this," the diplomat said.

"They don't always agree, but that is what happens when you have... a situation where there are no easy answers."

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