Last week, the most popular and very influential German weekly news magazine, Der Spiegel, published an article about US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland in relation to Ukraine. Der Spiegel is considered “left” and is comparable to Time magazine in the US. Below is a translation of that article into English.
Victoria Nuland: America’s tumultuous diplomat
By Matthias Gebauer and Holger Stark, Berlin and Washington
“Fuck the EU” – Victoria Nuland can be very direct. The diplomat is the US’s representative for handling Europe over the Ukraine crisis. But at the Munich Security Conference she once again caused irritations.
Victoria Nuland is standing in front of an azure blue video screen at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, and wants to say a few basic things about the Ukraine crisis. “We have to help Ukraine to stop the bloodshed,” she claims. Even with lethal weapons? Nuland speaks about “defensive” measures, and stops just shy of pressing for the delivery of heavy weapons to Kiev.
Nuland has a very direct approach. She can be keen and entertaining, but also undiplomatic – for a diplomat those are a dangerous combination.
The 53-year-old is the European representative of the US government, responsible for guiding the United States through the Ukraine crisis and solving the problems with Russian President Vladimir Putin. But in the crisis Nuland has herself become a problem.
The American gave an internal briefing to the US delegation at the Munich Security Conference last Friday. She sat on the sixth floor of the Hotel Bayerischer Hof; in the room were perhaps two dozen US diplomats and senators. The German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen had just publicly spoken about the fact that weapon deliveries could serve as an accelerant in eastern Ukraine. The Americans were angry.
According to the German “Bild” newspaper, Nuland said, “We can fight the Europeans, fight them rhetorically.”
According to the report, Nuland called Chancellor Merkel’s trip to visit Russian President Vladimir Putin “Merkel’s Moscow stuff.” The atmosphere heated up; one of the senators was to have ridiculed the German Defense Minister (the “Defeatism Minister”); a reference to the Europeans’ “Moscow bullshit” was probably also made.
The top diplomat Nuland is considered conservative. In case of an electoral victory by the Republicans in the coming year, she will be considered a potential new Secretary of State. She is married to Robert Kagan, a [Ed: neo-]conservative thinker. Last year he published a text, why America must remain the undisputed leader of the world.
In the Ukraine crisis Nuland is a hardliner and a supporter of delivering weapons – unlike her President Barack Obama, she has a clear opinion on what needs to be done.
Godsend and Liability for Obama
Nuland has worked at the US embassies in Moscow and Beijing, as a diplomat in NATO, and as a State Department spokeswoman in Washington. But no country fascinates her like Russia. She loves this country, she once said. She speaks Russian fluently. As the “most important memory of her career” the top diplomat describes a day in August 1991, when she stood before the Kremlin in Moscow together with 250,000 people “and said no to the counter-revolution”. Victoria Nuland has therefore also placed the fight against the forces of darkness in the former Russian Empire at the center of her career.
She is thus both a godsend and a liability for Obama. She already managed to made headlines after the Munich Security Conference last year. At that time she flew from Munich via Cyprus and Prague to Kiev, and on the way she called Geoffrey Pyatt, the US ambassador to Ukraine. Nuland dispensed with special security procedures and used her normal mobile phone. So the conversation went unencrypted.
In the evening of February 4, 2014, a four minute and eleven second recording appeared on YouTube. The conversation between the two top diplomats gave a rare glimpse into the world of American diplomacy. At the end of the call Nuland mentioned a proposal by the US government, meant to outmaneuver the hesitant Europeans, which made her world-famous . Shortly before she had spoken with the United Nations: the United Nations should send an envoy and engage with Ukraine, then the EU would no longer have much to say. “That would be great, I think, to help advance this thing, the UN would advance things,” Nuland said, and then added: “Fuck the EU”.
“Absolutely unacceptable” were the words that the Chancellor then conveyed – an unusually sharp reaction. In the following days Nuland had to apologize. As a token of apology, she appeared at the next round wearing a homemade pin, “I love the EU.”
Now for the second time Nuland’s disparaging statements not meant for the public have leaked. The Germans showed their irritation, since the American had praised Merkel’s initiative to defuse the crisis in Ukraine at the meeting with German ministers.
The day after the report in the “Bild” newspaper Nuland wanted nothing more to do with her statements. She was much more of a fan of the German Chancellor’s diplomatic initiative. “In the public and internally all of us, myself included, supported their diplomacy,” she stated to the Wall Street Journal, “and we have worked side by side with them.”