US AMBASSADOR John Koenig was forced to issue a clarifying statement on Monday, after a series of tweets on Sunday, about President Anastasiades’ Russia visit, sparked a hostile reaction from Anastasiades, the Archbishop, the political parties and journalists. His tweets, not the type expected from an ambassador, seemed calculated to provoke, although he denied this was his intention. But the truth is, regardless of his intentions, his comment did provoke because it was undiplomatic and out of order.
The original tweet said: “What do people in #Cyprus think about the week in Russia as seen from here? Anastasiades visit and statements, #Nemtsov assassination?” On Monday, Koenig said, “it is unfortunate that some suggested I linked the two issues,” and explained that he “simply wanted to get the reaction of the Cypriot people on two different issues.” This was not the most convincing response and the ambassador is smart enough to know that his tweet could have been interpreted in the way many of his followers had interpreted it.
And he persisted with the link in subsequent tweets: “Week was big 4 Cyprus-Russia, ended with killing of Nemtsov,” tagging on the snide remark, “The company you keep.” Was this remark not intended to “provoke or imply anything”, as he claimed yesterday? If it were not he would not have put the two issues together.
Whatever has happened to traditional diplomacy, of carefully-drafted documents being delivered to the foreign ministry of a country and ambassadors restricting their rarely-made public comments to non-controversial issues? And since when do ambassadors seek people’s reactions to events through social media? It is not as if Koenig’s followers on Twitter represented a cross-section of Cypriot society.
The reaction to the ambassador’s tweets was not restricted to his followers. Even Anastasiades felt obliged to make a public statement, pointing out that the American ambassador, instead of helping improve relations was continuously contributing towards the straining relations. He had a point, but he must have been thankful for Koenig’s tweets as they helped divert attention from his ill-advised Russia trip which had come under considerable local criticism. Suddenly, the issue was the meddling of the US ambassador in Cyprus affairs and not the president’s pandering to Vladimir Putin, Koenig stirring anti-US sentiment with his unnecessary and, to an extent, patronising tweets.
The locals did not need the Koenig’s guidance and smug comments to make up their mind about Anastasiades’ trip, but it seems not even ambassadors can resist the lure of social media and the temptation to be provocative… even when it is not their intention.