Audio of a private conversation between Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and European Commission Vice-President Catherine Ashton has been posted on YouTube today, causing the EU more consternation about phone leaks and a scramble to counter possible misinterpretations.
In a press conference at the Foreign Ministry today, Paet confirmed the leaked recording on YouTube is genuine and the conversation with Ashton took place on February 26, a day after his return from Ukraine.
In the audio, Paet is heard expressing concern to Ashton, the European Commission's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, that Ukraine's weak interim government could be discredited by enemies due to the leaders' failure to investigate various inconsistencies and some on-the-ground accounts that suggest some snipers shot both police and protesters in the late February violence in Kyiv's Maidan square.
He said there have been altered versions of the recording, aimed at discrediting the new Ukrainian government: “I ask journalists to be extremely cautious with that recording - (in the recording) I was talking about which versions of events were doing rounds in Ukraine.”
“I was not making judgements. I was only expressing concern that if the rumors take on a life of their own, it could harm the situation in Ukraine.”
Some media reports suggested that the officials themselves believed the snipers might have actually been commissioned in a conspiracy by the newly formed government coalition, a possibility that did not appear to be borne out by the recording.
RT, or Russia Today, a BBC-style news service run by the Kremlin and carried to more than 100 countries, said in its breaking news coverage today that “a leaked phone call reveals the same snipers were shooting at both police and protestors in Kiev.”
In this particular case, the recording or wiretap sounds like it was made on an EU line, as the music that plays at the start of the recording (played when someone calling the Estonian Foreign Ministry is placed on hold) is not heard when the call is initiated by an Estonian caller.
Paet said he used the ministry’s mobile phone, an iPhone 4, for the call and that he had it with him when he had visited Ukraine.
He added that he was not sure it was his phone that was traced, but he cannot be certain that his other conversations have not been hacked, and also that there is no information on how the recording was leaked.
“It is pointless to assume how the call was leaked. One can only assume why it was posted online a week after it happened, when a new government is in place.”
Paet said he had notified Ashton of the leak, although she probably already is aware of it.
“There will probably be an attempt to use the recording to discredit the new government of Ukraine. I am categorically against that. The crimes that took place in Maidan must be investigated and those responsible must be punished.”
Paet said it is up to other Estonian authorities to decide whether additional security measures are called for in connection with the leak.
The minister said an investigation must be launched into what actually happened and that there are probably many people who want an impartial investigation into the events.
In February, the United States’ top diplomat for European affairs was caught in her own telephone recording kerfuffle. A phone call of Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland and the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine caused an international row after the leaked tape, in which after they discussed the merits of different Ukrainian opposition leaders, Nuland exclaimed: “And you know, f-ck the EU.”
The call was published in the Kiev Post, but many U.S. officials fingered Russia for the wiretap.