By Jean Christou
US AMBASSADOR John Koenig on Monday said a tweet he posted on Sunday regarding President Nicos Anastasiades’ visit to Russia, which brought almost the entire political establishment down on him, had been “misunderstood”.
On Sunday Koenig posted a tweet saying: “What do people in #Cyprus think about the week in Russia as seen from here? Anastasiades visit and statements, #Nemtsov assassination?” The latter was referring to the assassination of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov last Friday.
Koenig was immediately slammed by Cypriot Twitter users, and subsequently in statements from Anastasiades, the government spokesman, the Archbishop and political parties, all of whom saw the comment as somehow linking Anastasiades and Cyprus with the assassination.
The Archbishop went as far as calling for Koenig to be booted out of Cyprus though the embassy said the ambassador’s three-year term would be up this summer in any case, but said it could not comment on who would replace him.
In his written statement on Monday in which he said his comments were misunderstood, Koenig added: “I would like to clarify that my intention was neither to provoke nor to imply anything. I simply wanted to get the reaction of the Cypriot people on two different issues: first, President Anastasiades’ visit and statements in Moscow and, second, another dramatic event in Moscow last week – the assassination of Boris Nemtsov. It is unfortunate that some suggested that I linked the two issues. That was not my intention,” he added.
But clearly that is how it was interpreted by Cypriot Twitter users. “NOT politically correct messages on behalf of the ambassador of US,” wrote one tweeter under the ambassador’s original post. “Ambassador, you should be ashamed of yourself. That’s a disgusting tweet,” said another.
Others, including journalists and academics described it as “undiplomatic and rather personal”.
Koenig responded: “How is this personal? My intent is not personal. Not everything is personal” and in another tweet added: “I wouldn’t suggest Anastasiades is linked to Nemtsov assassination. Be real. But Putin could be”, which drew further criticism.
“I just want to hear what people think. It’s not a comment. Week was big 4 Cyprus-Russia, ended with killing of Nemtsov,” the ambassador added in another tweet, tagging on: “The company you keep”, which just made things worse.
This was answered by another tweet with: “The company we keep, that’s rich coming frm u wth al the despots & dictators the US has supported over the yrs (sic).”
“Got to love hasty, real-time diplomacy; gone are carefully drafted statements,” commented another.
Outside the Twittersphere, a visibly annoyed Anastasiades told a CyBC television talk show that Koenig’s behaviour was “highly undiplomatic” and “unhelpful”.
“When an ambassador, instead of helping to improve relations constantly creates a coldness [in relations] he is not doing his best either for his country or the country to which he is accredited,” Anastasiades said.
The president was in Moscow last week where Cyprus signed a number of agreements, one of which – the formalising of an existing deal allowing Russian navy ships to dock as Cypriot ports – has caused a backlash from Western allies. Britain on Friday made its concerns known but the US has not officially criticised the move as yet.
Government Spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said on Monday that Koenig’s tweets were unfortunate, given that Nicosia has had no official contact from Washington about the Cyprus-Russia agreements.
It was not clear whether Koenig’s tweets reflected the official view but diplomats should always work within the context of diplomatic institutions and be more careful what they say in public lest it be wrongly perceived, he said.
Christodoulides said Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides, who is currently in the US, was due to meet later on Monday with Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, where the Russia visit would certainly be discussed. And in a new dig at the West, which Cyprus feels did not come out strongly enough against Turkey’s violations of the island’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Christodoulides said: “We have learned that there are no friends, only interests, and the Republic of Cyprus has acted in this context.”
He said the government was disappointed with the attitude of both the EU and the US in respect of the EEZ violations.
Archbishop Chrysostomos went a step further and called for Koenig’s removal, and slammed the attitude of the US and Britain to the Russia visit.
“We are an independent country and we can make any agreements we like,” he said, adding that it was always Russia, China and France, and not the US and Britain that had supported Cyprus at the UN Security Council. By Monday afternoon all of the political parities bar DIKO had issued statement similar to those of the Archbishop.
Government sources told the Cyprus Mail the only official concerns that had been relayed had come from Britain, which maintains two military bases on the island. “I don’t expect relations with the US to be affected. Before travelling to Moscow, the US was informed. We had a meeting with the ambassador and briefed him, the same as we did with the British,” said the source.
The source also said Nicosia felt bitter because the US had promised last year, through Victoria Nuland, “to react” against Turkey if it violated Cyprus’ EEZ. At the same time, Cyprus had bent over backwards to offer its help in combating the Islamic State “with all the risks implied for us”, while the big powers turned towards Turkey for help in that area even though Ankara had sat on the fence. “Turkey remained neutral and they were doing them favours. We decided we had to express our displeasure. We feel bitterness for their stance with respect to the EEZ. We expected much more,” said the source. “Also we don’t have the luxury of neglecting Russia, a country which is a permanent member of the Security Council.”
On Ukraine, the source said Cyprus held the same position as the island’s EU partners. “Did someone see us veto any sanction against Russia?” the source said, adding that the only ones who wanted more sanctions on Moscow were Poland, Lithuania and Britain.
The source also said that during the meeting with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president told Anastasiades he didn’t want to cause any problems for Cyprus with the EU or the US.
“The agreement in fact is nothing important, it is what we were offering them already,” the source said.
Meanwhile the foreign ministry in Nicosia issued a statement early on Monday saying Cyprus was appalled by the brutal murder Nemtsov who was shot four times in the back near the Kremlin in central Moscow on Friday