Mike McFaul, the American ambassador to Russia, claimed he has “no doubt” that Vladmir Putin’s government is recording his official communications with other U.S. officials — days after an embarrassing phone call from State Department official Victoria Nuland was allegedly leaked by Russian intelligence.
NBC’s David Gregory asked the ambassador about the contentious relationship between Russia and the United States, touching specifically on the leaked conversation between Nuland and another American official. In it, Nuland discusses options for American involvement in the ongoing insurrection against the Russian-backed government in Ukraine.
“Fuck the EU,” she declared, angry at the the European intergovernmental body for failing to strongly support pro-Western protesters.
Many observers — as well as some American officials — speculated Russian intelligence recorded that conversation and released it in order to emphasize what has been Russian president Vladmir Putin’s line from day one: American meddling is behind the uprising sweeping through Kiev and other western Ukrainian cities.
McFaul began diplomatically, noting that despite rifts between Russia and the United States on Edward Snowden, Syria and Ukraine, the two nations can still cooperate on a variety of other issues. “I think that’s just the nature of the U.S.-Russian relationship in 2014,” he noted. “Some cooperation, some disagreement.”
“Yeah, but it goes beyond that, doesn’t it?” Gregory responded. “I mean, here’s Vladmir Putin, who is using this moment to project Russian greatness — we saw that during the [Olympic] opening ceremonies — and yet he’s been happy to use Edward Snowden to embarrass the United States, leaking the intercepted tape of Victoria Nuland — have you yourself been bugged by the Russians?”
The ambassador didn’t beat around the bush. “Well, as we remind all Americans that come to this country, the Russian government has tremendous capabilities,” he claimed. “And [it’s] legal, by their law, [to intercept] phone calls, emails, et cetera. There’s no doubt that I am a primary subject of interest for them, and from time to time they have also leaked conversations I had that I thought were private.”
“That’s just the state of working in Russia,” he explained. “It is interesting to me that this doesn’t get more attention [from] our critics, and of course it goes beyond the pale of diplomatic protocol to — if indeed the Russian were responsible — to actually publish a private conversation between two American public officials.”
The American National Security Agency’s international wiretapping program has notably spied on a variety of foreign officials — most notably German chancellor and U.S. ally Angela Merkel. But it is rare for American intelligence — or indeed, any spy service from any country — to publicly reveal such conversations.
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