Did you hear the audio of the phone call between Assistant US Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and the American ambassador to Ukraine? The Russians apparently recorded it, and leaked it. Here’s a transcript from the BBC. I agree with the analysis of BBC’s Jonathan Marcus:

The US says that it is working with all sides in the crisis to reach a peaceful solution, noting that “ultimately it is up to the Ukrainian people to decide their future”. However this transcript suggests that the US has very clear ideas about what the outcome should be and is striving to achieve these goals. Russian spokesmen have insisted that the US is meddling in Ukraine’s affairs – no more than Moscow, the cynic might say – but Washington clearly has its own game-plan. The clear purpose in leaking this conversation is to embarrass Washington and for audiences susceptible to Moscow’s message to portray the US as interfering in Ukraine’s domestic affairs.

Marcus goes on to say — rightly, I think — that this episode makes both the US and Russia look bad (the Russians, because it makes clear that they’re intercepting US diplomatic communications … but then, our NSA has been doing the same thing to foreign leaders, e.g., Angela Merkel, who leads a nation that is not an enemy or a rival, but an ally). Still, the big difference is that Ukraine is on Russia’s border, and well within its sphere of influence. I haven’t been following the Ukraine situation closely, and for all I know, those Europhile Ukrainians protesting the Yanukovych government are entirely in the right. But what business is it of the United States to manipulate Ukrainian politics? Marcus, the analyst, says that the EU is holding back on involving itself in Ukraine’s power struggle because it doesn’t see the relative value in offending Moscow over Kiev. Nuland’s response: “F–k the EU.”

Lovely. From a realist perspective, doesn’t the EU have the better of the argument? Last December, Robert Merry wrote about the Ukraine mess, explaining that Ukraine is divided between its Catholic, Europe-oriented west, and its Orthodox, Russia-oriented east. It’s not simply a matter of a corrupt authoritarian regime standing against the People. Excerpt:

Ukraine will have to find its way through its historical predicament. Russia no doubt will play a role in whatever outcome emerges, if any. After all, Russia has been involved in the fate of Ukraine since 1654. Europe may have a role to play as well, given its proximity and the Western affinity of Ukraine’s western regions. But the United States has almost no standing to interfere.

What will be the outcome? Will Ukraine eventually split in two, each half going in its favored direction? It’s difficult to see such an eventuality absent a major international crisis in the region, although there will always be those who advocate such a course. As one Russian general once mused, “Ukraine or rather Eastern Ukraine will come back [into the Russian fold] in five, ten or fifteen years. Western Ukraine can go to hell!”

More likely, the country will continue to muddle through its current political conundrum as best it can. Huntington speculated that “Ukraine will remain united, remain cleft, remain independent, and generally cooperate closely with Russia.” He quotes author John Morrison as saying that the Russian-Ukrainian relationship is to Eastern Europe what the Franco-German relationship is to western Europe. Huntington explains, “Just as the latter provides the core of the European Union, the former is the core essential to unity in the Orthodox world.”

The point is not that Russia’s hands are clean with regard to interfering with Ukraine’s internal affairs. Of course they aren’t; only a fool would believe that they are. The point is that the United States is involved in Ukraine’s internal politics so deeply that a senior American diplomat asserts the right to decide who among the Ukrainian opposition should go into the government, and who should not. Why? Why is this in America’s interest? As a general matter, it is better to have a pro-American government in power in a given country than an anti-American one. But is Ukraine really so important a prize as to risk our relationship with Russia, and with the EU? One understands that a crackpot hawk like John McCain would think so, but is this really how Barack Obama wants to carry on?