Victoria Nuland, the assistant secretary of state for European affairs, has apologized for using an expletive regarding the European Union while discussing Ukraine with the U.S. ambassador in Kiev, the State Department said.
Nuland "has been in contact with her EU counterparts, and of course, has apologized," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters after an audiotape of an intercepted 4-minute phone conversation appeared on the Internet.
In the Jan. 25 recording, Nuland and U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt candidly discuss the composition of a possible new government to replace the pro-Russian Cabinet of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
The recording was put anonymously on YouTube Tuesday under the Russian headline "Puppets of Maidan," a reference to the square in Kiev occupied by anti-government protesters.
Dmitry Losukov, an aide to Russia's deputy prime minister, posted it on Twitter Thursday, calling it "controversial."
A Merkel spokeswoman said the chancellor found Nuland's comments and criticism of the EU "absolutely unacceptable," the New York Times reported. The spokeswoman said Merkel has a high opinion of the role played by Catherine Ashton, the top EU official for foreign affairs, in Ukraine talks.
The White House, which had refused to confirm the recording's authenticity Thursday, pointed to Losukov's action as an indication of Russian involvement, but it said it was not accusing Moscow of taping the call.
"I think it says something about Russia's role," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
Psaki said the United States considers the posting of the recording "a new low in Russian tradecraft" but said she had no information about who posted it.
The New York Times, which reached Nuland in Kiev, said she seemed amused by the incident.
"It's all part of the job," she told the newspaper.
Pyatt posted a picture on Twitter of the two of them laughing as they read the Russian official's Twitter message.
"Enjoying Dima's tweet here in Kyiv," Pyatt wrote, referring to Loskutov.
The Washington publication the Hill reported Nuland's criticism was in the context of praising U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for choosing an envoy to deal with the political crisis.
In the tape, Nuland said the U.N. envoy will "help glue this thing and to have the U.N. glue it. And you know, [expletive] the EU."
"Exactly," Pyatt can be heard replying, the Hill reported. "And I think we got to do something to make it stick together, because you can be sure that if it does start to gain altitude the Russians will be working behind the scenes to torpedo it."