Long-suffering State Dept. spokesperson Jen Psaki endured another torrid press briefing as she was forced to defend some distinctly unsavory remarks by Ukrainian politicians and struggled with the differences between Iraq and Iran, as well as oil and gas.
As usual, AP’s Matt Lee served as Psaki’s chief tormentor, bringing up last week’s protests outside the Russian embassy in Kiev, in which Ukraine’s acting Foreign Minister Andrey Deshchitsa addressed the anti-Russian mob by telling them that “Putin is a f**ker.”
“These are officials you have supported, is this the kind of language you find acceptable?” Lee asked Psaki.
Psaki insisted that Deshchitsa's words are not relevant. Rather, what truly matters is “what the FM was doing when he made those comments,” she said.
“He’s been encouraging calm, encouraging a peaceful resolution, and I would otherwise point you to the Ukrainians on the meaning of the language used, but I think the context here of what effort he was undergoing is an incredibly important part.”
Whether Deshchitsa truly succeeded in his aims of quelling the crowd is questionable – the video shows his words being immediately picked up and turned into a football chant by the delighted mob, as the somewhat mortified diplomat looks on.
And while the Russian embassy did not get torched, one international incident was replaced with another after an official press release from Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk, in which anti-Kiev militias in eastern Ukraine were described as “sub-human” separatists.
“I think the Prime Minister behavior and his leadership has been consistently in support of a peaceful resolution,” Psaki said, refusing to answer whether she felt okay with the Ukrainian official using the Nazi-like word “subhuman” to describe the Russians.
But, perhaps aware of the menacing overtones, Ukrainian officials have since replaced the word “subhuman” with an innovative description of the secessionists – “inhuman.” It is unclear if Yatsenyuk purposely used the word subhuman, and the fate of the translator of the term from Ukrainian – which could have fit either translation – has not been discovered.
Psaki also commented on Russian gas giant Gazprom's move to switch Ukraine to a natural gas prepayment plan – but she struggled with the differences between oil and gas.
“The oil as I understand it – or gas, I should say, continues to flow to Europe, which of course goes through Ukraine,” she said, this time at least getting the direction of the flow right. She called on Russia to resume negotiations, failing to recognize that Ukraine was unwilling to accept any compromises.
Proceedings then descended into farce as a flustered Psaki repeatedly mixed up Iraq and Iran, until it was not clear to anyone in the room which country she was referring to.