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Russian official denies role in leaking US diplomat's coarse comment

MOSCOW - A Russian government aide who was among the first to post a video online containing a bugged phone call between two U.S. diplomats denied Friday that he or the government played a role in leaking the recording.

Dmitry Loskutov said he was surfing a social networking website on Thursday when he came across the video, in which the top U.S. diplomat for Europe, Victoria Nuland, disparages the European Union.

Loskutov, an aide to Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that his decision to repost the video had no connection to his work for the Russian government.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday that Loskutov's post pointed to Moscow's possible involvement. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the video was "a new low in Russian tradecraft," indirectly suggesting that Russia was responsible for bugging the call.

Loskutov posted a link on Twitter which he said proved that another anonymous user had posted the video on Wednesday, the day before he did.

"I think you're better off asking the titushki (about the origins of the video)," he said, using the word that Ukrainian protesters have used to describe violent, government-paid thugs who are meant to delegitimize the protest movement.

The AP verified that the post cited by Loskutov was made on Wednesday, but the sender could not be identified.

Rogozin, Loskutov's boss, was unavailable for comment but posted an indirect but vociferous response to American accusations online on Friday.

"While the westerners weave little intrigues and get into scandals, Russia is helping the regions of Ukraine restore lost connections with our industries," he wrote on the blogging platform Twitlonger on Friday morning ahead of a meeting with Ukrainian industrialists.

"Maybe then there will be fewer unemployed and embittered people to organize riots in their own cities with foreign money," Rogozin said.

In the video, voices resembling those of Nuland and the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine discuss international efforts to resolve Ukraine's ongoing political crisis. At one point, the Nuland voice suggests that the EU's position should be ignored. "F--- the EU," the female voice said.

Nuland has been active in U.S. efforts to resolve the crisis in Ukraine, where anti-government protesters have been camped out in downtown Kyiv for almost three months after President Viktor Yanukovych announced he was shelving an association deal with the EU in favour of closer ties with Russia.

During a press conference in Kyiv on Friday, Nuland said she would not comment on the video except to say that it was "pretty impressive tradecraft," echoing the State Department phrase that suggested Russia's involvement.

In Brussels, a spokeswoman for EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the EU would not comment on "allegedly intercepted communication as a position of principle."

"Intercepted private conversations aren't part of the toolbox that we use to assist Ukraine," said Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen.

A spokeswoman for Chancellor Angela Merkel said the German leader considered Nuland's comment "absolutely unacceptable." The spokeswoman, Christiane Wirtz, said Germany believes the EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton "is doing a marvelous job."

___

Jim Heintz in Kyiv and Juergen Baetz in Brussels contributed to this report.

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