BERLIN — "Really Pretty Stupid" was the headline on an editorial Friday in the august Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung discussing the latest eruption between the United States and Europe, this time over who should take the lead in trying to calm the crisis in Ukraine and how to do it.
The headline spoke to the tensions that surfaced this week over the release of a recording in which a top U.S. diplomat disparaged the European Union's efforts in Ukraine. On Friday, a second recording surfaced in which European diplomats complained about the Americans.
But the headline was also a reflection of the disarray that has marked much of the West's dealings with Ukraine since late November, when President Viktor Yanukovych spurned a pact with the EU. He then turned to Russia for a $15 billion aid package that the Kremlin has since suspended because of continuing antigovernment protests in Kiev, the capital.
Ever since Ukraine became independent as the Soviet Union crumbled in 1991, the United States and Europe have had different aims for the country, a large, troubled nation of 45 million.
With strategic considerations uppermost in U.S. diplomacy, the United States helped, for instance, to rid Ukraine of old Soviet nuclear weapons. Europe, meanwhile, saw opportunities for trade.
Russia, which has centuries of shared history with Ukraine, looked on with mounting suspicion and now seems to be intent on exploiting Western disarray.
The release of the recordings has further roiled the waters. In the first one, posted anonymously on YouTube, Victoria Nuland, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European affairs, profanely dismissed European efforts in Ukraine as weak and inadequate to the challenge posed by the Kremlin. Nuland was speaking on the phone to the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt.
On Friday, a second recording was posted — like the first, with a title in Russian — that featured a senior German diplomat, Helga Schmid, complaining in her native language to the EU envoy in Kiev about "unfair" U.S. criticism of Europe's diplomacy.
While the Obama administration accused the Russians of making mischief by recording and then posting the Nuland conversation, neither the EU nor Germany blamed the Kremlin for the second recording.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, earlier the target of U.S. monitoring of her cellphone, issued a sharp statement saying that Nuland's remarks were "completely unacceptable."
Julianne Smith, a former national security aide to Vice President Joe Biden who is at the Center for a New American Security, said there was a structural tension between the EU and the United States because the Americans can speak with one voice and grow impatient waiting for decisions from a union with 27 voices.
"They all have different sovereign issues, different threat perceptions, different priorities," she said.