ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece and Turkey fought a brief dogfight on Twitter over Turkey’s downing of a Russian warplane due to an error by an aide in Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ office, a Greek official said on Monday.
It began in the middle of a summit between Turkey and the European Union on Sunday, when a message appeared on Tsipras’ Twitter account saying: “To Prime Minister Davutoglu: Fortunately our pilots are not as mercurial as yours against the Russians.”
A second tweet issued in Tsipras’ name referred to near-miss aerial incidents between Greek and Turkish planes over the Aegean Sea, saying: “What is happening in the Aegean is outrageous and unbelievable”.
A third tweet added: “We’re spending billions on weapons. You - to violate our airspace. We - to intercept you.”
Making a link to the influx of refugees and other migrants from Turkey into Greece this year, a fourth tweet said: “We have the most modern aerial weapons systems - and yet, on the ground, we can’t catch the traffickers who drown innocent people.”
An indignant Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu snapped back in a tweet, saying: “Comments on pilots by @atsipras seem hardly in tune with the spirit of the day. Alexis: let us focus on our positive agenda.”
The war of words abruptly ceased late on Sunday when the tweets were removed from Tsipras’ English-language account, giving rise to speculation that it might have been hacked, although the comments were still on his Greek-language account on Monday morning.
An official in the prime minister’s office said the tweets had been posted in error by an aide.
“There was a mistake. Tsipras did indeed say this to Davutoglu (in a private meeting) but it wasn’t intended to be made public, so they were erased,” the official said.
European governments have refrained from public criticism of Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian warplane it said violated its airspace during a mission over Syria last Tuesday, while calling on both sides to cool tempers.
Moscow has denied its plane entered Turkish airspace. It has imposed trade sanctions on Ankara and urged Russians not to travel to Turkey, a favorite Russian tourist destination.
Seeking to calm the Aegean storm, Tsipras met Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in Paris on Monday on the sidelines of a U.N. climate conference. They agreed the results of Sunday’s EU-Turkey summit were “positive” and that they will remain in close contact, a statement from Tsipras’ office said.
Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas and Karolina Tagaris; Writing by Paul Taylor