German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed outrage last night over a leaked phone conversation in which a top US diplomat used the f-word regarding the European Union's handling of the crisis in Ukraine.
The candid remark by the US State Department's most senior European official threatened to drive a dangerous divide between the allies in the midst of one their most high-stakes diplomatic tussles with Moscow since the Cold War.
The embarrassing row came as Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych was due to hold crisis talks with his Russian counterpart and ally Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
Washington and Brussels have engaged in a diplomatic stand-off with Kiev and Moscow over deadly mass protests that erupted in Ukraine in November when Yanukovych rejected a pact with the EU in favour of closer ties with old Soviet master Russia.
But the leaked phone call hinted strongly at Washington's mounting frustration with the Europeans' handling of Ukraine's worst political crisis since its independence in 1991.
In the recording, US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and US ambassador to Kiev, Geoff Pyatt, discuss frankly which opposition figures should go into the new Ukrainian government.
"That would be great I think to help glue this thing and have the UN glue it and you know, f*** the EU," Nuland says.
Ms Nuland did not dispute the authenticity of the call. "I will not comment on a private diplomatic conversation," she told reporters in Kiev yesterday.
"It was pretty impressive tradecraft," she added in what appeared to be indirect confirmation of the authenticity of the tape. "Audio quality was very good."
An angry US State Department pointed the finger at Russia for allegedly bugging the diplomats' phones.
"This is a new low in Russian tradecraft," US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
But the irritation in Europe focused squarely on Washington rather than the Kremlin – a worrying signal for the US administration amid continuing fallout over its controversial phone and internet surveillance work.
"The chancellor considers this statement absolutely unacceptable ... and wants to emphasise again that (EU foreign policy chief Catherine) Ashton is doing an outstanding job," a spokeswoman for Ms Merkel said yesterday.
Russia had no official reaction to the call.
The political crisis has seen Ukraine's borrowing costs spike and the currency lose nearly 10pc of its value amid a rush by frightened consumers to cut their losses by stocking up on dollars and euro. ( © Daily Telegraph, London)