Russia was probably "engaged in the leak" of a recorded telephone call in which a U.S. diplomat is heard making an obscene comment about the European Community, former Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich told Newsmax TV on Friday.
"We now have this whole problem with Snowden and with other leaks — and the whole system seems to be breaking down in terms of its ability to keep things confidential," Gingrich told John Bachman on "America's Forum" on Newsmax TV.
Gingrich, a co-host of "Crossfire" on CNN, was referring to Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked information about the National Security Agency's vast surveillance programs.
Snowden, 30, lives under temporary political asylum in Russia and has been charged with espionage by the U.S. government.
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Regarding the leaked telephone call, it was recorded about 12 days ago. In it, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland can be heard
disparaging the EU's efforts to work with Washington to support the Ukrainian opposition.
Nuland, who had been recorded talking with U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, has since apologized for her comment.
An aide to the Russian deputy prime minister said on Friday that neither he nor the government played a role in leaking the tape.
In his Newsmax interview, Gingrich said the call was most likely leaked to divert attention from President Vladimir Putin and the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The furor over the leak has also raised questions about security standards among diplomatic missions in Kiev and over possible Russian or Ukrainian bugging of diplomatic lines.
"Sochi just draws a big circle," Gingrich said. "You can't imagine an area that is more difficult to hold the Winter Olympics in — and of course Putin has this huge problem that he has a country which has massive internal corruption.
"There's also enormous tension underway in the Ukraine, and a lot of different things are going on simultaneously, with Syria and with Iraq and Iran," he said.
Ukraine is a sprawling former Soviet state of 46 million people that Putin wants to keep in Moscow's economic orbit. Anti-government protesters have been camped out in downtown Kiev for almost three months after President Viktor Yanukovych said that he was shelving a deal with the EU in favor of closer ties with Russia.
"The issue of whether Ukraine is an independent country or is really a satellite of Russia is enormously important both to Europe and to Moscow," Gingrich explained. "The fact is that western Ukraine is very oriented towards Europe; eastern Ukraine is very oriented towards Russia. The internal tensions are enormous.
"In addition, Putin would regard it as a decisive defeat to see Ukraine entering into the European system and leaving the Russian orbit. So the amount of pressure they're prepared to bring in terms of cutting off the natural gas supply, cutting off economic aid — the Russians are simply not going to tolerate too much independence from the Ukraine, and this is a real challenge."
Gingrich said he did not expect Nuland's career to be affected by the leaked call.
"The Obama State Department seems to be willing to tolerate virtually any level of incompetency. Look at the whole reaction to Benghazi," he told Newsmax. "She's been around a long time and is seen on the left as a very serious person, so I'm sure she'll be protected.
"Plus, I don't know that you're going to have an American diplomat lose any ground because they make Putin angry."
Regarding Iran, the former speaker said that Congress should tighten sanctions against Tehran if it does not reach a deal to curb its nuclear program.
"We should strengthen the president's hand. The Iranians are making fools of us," he said. "These guys treat this president with contempt."
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