Tsipras Pokes at Turkey on Twitter Over Russian Jet Downing

  • Greek prime minister tweets on `mercurial' Turkish pilots
  • Tsipras comments as EU, Turkey agree to stem refugee flow

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras sparred over the downing of a Russian jet with his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu, in a Twitter exchange that underscored the challenge of European Union moves to relaunch talks aimed at Turkey’s EU accession.

“To Prime Minister Davutoglu: Fortunately, our pilots are not as mercurial as yours against the Russians,” Tsipras said in a tweet on Sunday evening after attending an EU-Turkey summit that agreed on measures to help stem the refugee crisis. He later deleted the English original of the tweet but kept the Greek version.

In two more posts, Tsipras said that the situation is unacceptable in the Aegean sea, the conduit for most of the refugees traveling to Europe via Turkey, since both countries spend billions on the military. Turkey spends the money to “violate” Greece’s airspace, and Greece spends it to “intercept,” he said.

The remarks triggered a dismissive response in English from Davutoglu. “Comments on pilots by @atsipras seem hardly in tune with the spirit of the day. Alexis: let us focus on our positive agenda,” Turkey’s prime minister said on Twitter.

The exchange threatened to detract from the results of the summit of EU and Turkish leaders, who agreed on steps to curb the flow of migrants to Europe and counter terrorism, aided by a pledge to “re-energize” Turkey’s EU membership bid and a package of 3 billion euros ($3.2 billion) in assistance for refugees in Turkey.

Tsipras discussed the outcome of the summit with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of climate change talks in Paris Monday. In their brief encounter, the two leaders agreed that the result was positive, and to stay in close contact, according to an e-mailed statement from Tsipras’s office.

Greece and Turkey have waged two wars since the former gained its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1830. They remain at loggerheads over Cyprus, the last European state divided by a buffer zone between the internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot territory and the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which was established after the Turkish army invaded the northern part of the island. Mock dogfights between Greek and Turkish F-16 fighter jets are a daily routine over the Aegean, while the record refugee influx this year has added further strains to relations.

“We have the most modern weapon systems in the air, and down below we can’t spot the smugglers who drown innocent people,” Tsipras said in another tweet on Sunday elaborating on his comments about Turkey.

Greece supports Turkey’s bid to become a full member of the EU on the condition of easing tensions over the Aegean Sea, and reaching an agreement for the reunification of Cyprus, also an EU member-state. European and Turkish officials reported progress in negotiations Sunday on resolving the long-standing dispute, potentially removing a key obstacle to Turkey’s EU accession bid.

Both Greece and Cyprus are among the most vocal critics of Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian fighter jet over the Syrian border last week. Cyprus’s foreign ministry said on Nov. 25 that it is “deeply concerned” about the “unacceptable” incident.

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