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Ambassador Says Phone-Call Leak Runs Afoul of ‘Diplomatic Norms’

U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul gestures during his meeting with deputies of the United Russia party at Russia's State Duma, lower house of parliament, in Moscow, in this May 25, 2012 file photo. SERGEI KARPUKHIN / Reuters

SOCHI, Russia — U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul told NBC News that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Russia had taped a leaked phone call between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and the US ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt. In a high-quality recording of the phone call posted on YouTube Nuland made a blunt comment on the European Union’s slow response to the ongoing crisis in the Ukraine: “F*** the E.U.” "The video was first noted and tweeted out by the Russian government. I think it says something about Russia's role," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday. In an interview with NBC News, Ambassador McFaul said, while visiting Sochi with the US delegation, “We all know the capabilities of the Russian government, so I would not be surprised if that is what they did. What does surprise me is that it’s leaked and put on YouTube.” McFaul said that while not all the facts of the recorded phone call have been uncovered, it was “some kind of breach of diplomatic norms.” During a press conference in the Ukrainian capital Kiev on Friday, Nuland said “I'm obviously not going to comment on private diplomatic conversations, other than to say that it was pretty impressive tradecraft. The audio was pretty clear.” While the media has focused on Nuland’s off-color comment Ambassador McFaul said the conversation, and the leak, should be understood in the context of the conflict in the Ukraine dominated by street protests and violent clashes. Some in the country, just across the Black Sea from Sochi, want the Ukraine to remain in Russia’s sphere of influence. Opposition protesters in the Ukraine, however, want better relations with the west, especially the European Union. The leak appears to show Nuland secretly plotting Ukraine’s future, which is what Russian officials have accused her of doing. Ambassador McFaul said it’s a common accusation in Russia these days. “With respect to Russia, yes, that’s a theme they’ve developed about our foreign policy with respect to Ukraine and with respect to Russia and have accused me that of seeking to foment revolution here,” he said. “It's an argument, I would say a propaganda argument that you will meet every single night on the Russian television.” McFaul said as a U.S. ambassador to Russia, he has felt watched and monitored. “It's just a statement of fact,” he said. “As we said in our fact sheet for people traveling to this country for the Olympics, one should just assume this.” Ambassador McFaul, who has announced he will leave his posting for family reasons, said he had phone calls secretly recorded and published as a way to discredited the American diplomatic efforts. “I've had it done to me from time to time living here in Russia so I know exactly how it feels,” he said.