It's an unusual way to start a diplomatic crisis.
Moscow accused Washington of interfering with the situation in Ukraine and attempting to shape events toward a particular outcome Thursday, after a rude remark by a State Department official assigned to the region in a private phone call leaked to the foreign press.
In the call, State Department official Victoria Nuland, the US's assistant secretary of state to Eastern Europe, discusses the situation and curses out the European Union.
The four-minute call between Nuland and Gregory Pyatt, the US's ambassador to Ukraine, was leaked on the internet Thursday under the title "Puppets of Maidan (Independence Square)," according to the New York Times.
The two referenced offers by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to bring in two opposition leaders, former economics minister Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk and heavyweight boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko, as Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister; Nuland rejected the idea of Klitscho as a politician.
Pyatt responded, “If it does gain altitude, the Russians will be working behind the scenes to torpedo it."
They also slammed their European counterparts for being too passive, according to the daily.
Russia attacked the US over the call Thursday, accusing the Western power of forming a coup to sway the Ukrainian crisis to their liking. Kremlin advisor Sergei Glazyev accused the US of arming the "rebels" in Kiev and violating a 1994 non-interference agreement pact.
"What the Americans are getting up to now, unilaterally and crudely interfering in Ukraine’s internal affairs, is a clear breach of that treaty,” said Glazyev, who advises Russian President Vladimir Putin on Ukraine. “The agreement is for collective guarantees and collective action.”
US strikes back at Russian criticism as "new low"
The US responded by sidestepping the allegations, instead lobbing criticism at Russia for leaking the information. "Clearly, this is a new low in Russian tradecraft," State Department Spokesman Jen Psaki stated.
"I think it says something about Russia’s role,” said Jay Carney, the White House press secretary.
Yanukovych himself tried to smooth over tensions Thursday, meeting with Nuland just before flying out for the Sochi Olympic Games, according to Reuters. "Only by dialogue and compromise can we get out of this crisis," Yanukovych stated.
It was a stark reminder of the ongoing tensions Yanukovych faces as he struggles with an ongoing tug-of-war between Russia and the EU, both of whom are vying for a statement of loyalty from the embattled country.
Demographically, Ukraine is caught in a culture clash between the western areas of the country, which have historically and culturally identified more as European over centuries, and the eastern areas, which identify more traditionally with Russia.
That struggle continues to mushroom into a political and economic crisis. Last week, Russia froze a $15 billion aid package to the former Soviet state after Yanukovych agreed to meet with opposition leaders; the EU, meanwhile, is working with the US to provide a counter-package - but denies that the move constitutes a political competition.
“We are not going to a bidding competition of who pays more for a signature from Ukraine, because we believe that this is the path that most Ukrainians prefer,” Jose Manuel Barroso, the head of the EU's executive branch, said in Brussels Monday. “They want to come closer to the European Union, and certainly we are ready to support that."