America will stand by you, Cheney promises Georgia

AFP
Dick Cheney was greeted with an honour guard after landing in Kiev on a visit that included Georgia and Azerbaijan Picture: AFP

Published Date: 05 September 2008

DICK Cheney, the US vice-president, yesterday vowed to support Georgia in its showdown with Russia, calling Moscow’s war against the former Soviet state an illegitimate act that cast doubt on its reliability.
Mr Cheney, one of Moscow’s harshest critics, is the highest- ranking US official to visit Georgia since Tbilisi tried to retake the breakaway region of South Ossetia by force early in August and was overwhelmed by the Russian military.

His strong comments may rile the Kremlin. Moscow has accused the United States of fuelling tensions by egging on the Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, a US-educated lawyer with close ties to George Bush’s administration.

“After your nation won its freedom in the Rose Revolution, America came to the aid of this courageous young democracy,” Mr Cheney said, referring to the peaceful revolution in 2003 which brought Mr Saakashvili to power.

“We are doing so again as you work to overcome an invasion of your sovereign territory and an illegitimate, unilateral attempt to change your country’s borders by force that has been universally condemned by the free world,” Mr Cheney said, standing next to Mr Saakashvili on his first visit to Tbilisi.

Russian officials did not respond and have been dismissive about Mr Cheney’s presence. Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister, had said on Wednesday that he was not paying much attention to Cheney’s trip.

Mr Cheney, on a tour of US allies in the region that started in Azerbaijan and continued in Ukraine late yesterday, said Russia’s actions had cast “grave doubt” on its intentions and reliability as a partner in the region and internationally.

Azerbaijan and Georgia are links in a western-backed energy corridor, bypassing Russia, which the West fears could be in jeopardy following the Kremlin’s thrust into Georgia.

The Kremlin has recognised South Ossetia and a second rebel region, Abkhazia, as independent states.

Only Nicaragua has followed Moscow’s example in recognising the two provinces. In a setback for Russia, its former Soviet security allies stopped short of doing so yesterday, although they did blame Georgia for the conflict.

Russia has kept troops in a “buffer zone” on Georgian territory, a move the US and European Union say violates a French-brokered peace plan. Moscow says the troops are needed to provide security.

However, Moscow says it will withdraw once a mechanism for deploying international monitors is agreed, and has invited EU police to participate.

Franco Frattini, the Italian foreign minister, said after talks with Mr Lavrov in Moscow that it was in Europe’s interests “that the international mission assumes full control of the security zone as quickly as possible”.

Military monitors from the OSCE, a pan-European security body, gained brief access to the buffer zone adjacent to South Ossetia yesterday for the first time since the conflict.

After the crisis erupted, Mr Cheney said that Russian actions would not go unanswered.

On Wednesday, Washington announced aid of more than $1 billion to help Georgia rebuild housing, transportation and other infrastructure destroyed in its five-day war with Russia.

The US is also sending relief supplies aboard the Mount Whitney, a command warship of the US sixth fleet. It could arrive off Georgia as early as today.

Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, has accused the US of delivering weapons to Georgia by sea, a charge rejected by the White House.

IN QUOTES

DICK Cheney yesterday said the United States was “fully committed” to Georgian efforts to join Nato.

“Georgia will be in our alliance,” he told reporters while standing alongside Mikhail Saakashvili, the Georgian president .

“America is fully committed to Georgia’s membership action plan for Nato and to its eventual membership in the alliance.

“The United States is very pleased with the recent establishment of the Nato-Georgia commission.

“As the current members of Nato declared at the summit in Bucharest, Georgia will be in our alliance. Nato is a defensive alliance.”

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