- By Hanna KozlowskaHanna Kozlowska is a fellow at Foreign Policy. She previously worked as a fixer, researcher and freelance contributor for the New York Times in Poland, and as the associate editor for Poland Today, an English-language magazine. Her work has also appeared in the Huffington Post and several Polish publications. She graduated from Swarthmore College where she was coeditor in chief of The Daily Gazette.
With Kiev in mourning over the anti-government protesters who died while protesting against the ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, two top EU officials discussed a disturbing possibility: That the lethally effective snipers who played a large role in leaving as many as 88 protesters dead during the government’s brutal crackdown in Kiev were acting at the behest of members of Ukraine’s opposition, not because of orders from the Yanukovych government.
That phone call, between Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, was never supposed to see the light of day, but on Wednesday a recording of their conversation from Feb. 26 was leaked online. "There is now stronger and stronger understanding that behind the snipers, it was not Yanukovych, but it was somebody from the new coalition," Paet told Ashton.
If true, that would upend the long-held understanding of who was responsible for the recent bloodshed in the streets of Kiev. Members of Ukraine’s new government, backed by Western observers, have long said that Yanukovych’s forces were responsible. That is part of the reason he has been accused, in absentia, of murder. Paet acknowledged that the allegations themselves were enough to severely discredit the new government. The Kremlin-backed news service RT is already trying to use the tape to attack Kiev’s new rulers. The headline of their story on the tape’s existence? "Kiev snipers hired by Maidan leaders – leaked EU’s Ashton phone tape"
The Estonian Foreign Ministry has confirmed the tape’s authenticity and rejected the claim that Paet blamed Kiev’s protest movement for ordering the snipers to open fire. "Foreign Minister Paet was giving an overview of what he had heard the previous day in Kiev and expressed concern over the situation on the ground. We reject the claim that Paet was giving an assessment of the opposition’s involvement in the violence," the ministry said in a statement.
"The fact that this phone call has been leaked is not a coincidence," Paet said in the statement.
Paet said that Olga Bogomelets, a prominent Ukrainian doctor, had informed him of her suspicions that the snipers had links to the protest movement. According to Paet, Bogomelets told him that while both policemen and protesters were shot and killed by snipers, "they were the same snipers, killing people from both sides."
According to Paet, Bogomelets told him that the new Ukrainian authorities did not want to investigate what exactly had happened or who was responsible for the snipers’ actions, decisions that she found "disturbing." "She then also showed me some photos. She said that as a medical doctor she can say that it is the same handwriting, the same type of bullets, and it’s really disturbing that now the new coalition, that they don’t want to investigate what exactly happened," Paet said on the call with Ashton.
"I think we do want to investigate. I mean, I didn’t pick that up, that’s interesting. Gosh," Ashton told Paet.
The recording of the call was posted to YouTube by a user with the name Michael Bergman. According to the description accompanying the video, "officers of Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) loyal to the ousted President Viktor Yanukovich" hacked Ashton and Paet’s phones to make the recording. That recording is available in full here:
This is the second high-level diplomatic conversation regarding Ukraine that has been leaked to the public. On Feb. 6 anonymous Internet users posted to the Internet a phone call between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt during which they discussed a possible resolution to the crisis in Kiev.
The release of Wednesday’s tape carries the same message as Nuland relayed in that leaked conversation: "fuck the EU."