PRINCETON – The recent release on YouTube of an intercepted phone conversation between US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and the American ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt – in which Nuland blasts the European Union for its inadequate response to the protests in Ukraine – is classic Soviet-style kompromat. The intended beneficiary was clearly Ukraine’s faltering president, Viktor Yanukovych. But who is being compromised?

On the face of it, the leak is a simple smear. It lends itself to the conspiratorial view that the international political order is an elaborate façade for brutal American power and corporate interests. The United Nations is just a mechanism to advance American interests, at the expense of countries like Ukraine, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry little more than cardboard figures who are needed to “glue it” for the Americans. Those are Nuland’s terms, and the conversation’s most memorable line, which immediately dominated the German headlines, was Nuland’s injunction to “fuck the EU.”

The revelation severely undercuts America’s image, confirming for many European leaders what they have long whispered to one another: the US not only despises their sluggish and ineffective diplomacy, but also hopes that the entire European project fails. At the same time, it suits Russia to remind Ukrainians that another major power despises Europe.

The primary target of the kompromat, however, is a Ukrainian: the moderate reformer and economic liberal Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who was just offered the post of Prime Minister. Assuming that US diplomatic support undercuts a public figure’s credibility in Ukraine (and, of course, in Russia), the revelation that Yatsenyuk – “the guy who’s got the economic experience,” according to Nuland – is America’s preferred candidate could be enough to turn Ukrainians against him. (The fact that Nuland referred to him as “Yats” has the added implication that American diplomats are so ignorant and contemptuous that they cannot even be bothered to pronounce Slavic names.)