- The Washington Times - Friday, September 5, 2008

KIEV | Vice President Dick Cheney insisted Thursday that Georgia will join NATO and backed its attempts to rebuild from its war with Russia, using a trip to former Soviet republics as a show of U.S. support for their pro-Western leaders.

Mr. Cheney flew to the Ukrainian capital Kiev from Georgia, where he denounced Russia’s “illegitimate, unilateral attempt” to redraw the U.S. ally’s borders by force.

“Georgia will be in our alliance,” Mr. Cheney told reporters while standing alongside Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, whose pro-Western government has sought to join NATO despite Russian opposition.

Angry Russian officials have repeatedly said U.S. military aid was instrumental in emboldening Georgia to try to retake South Ossetia by force on Aug. 7. The attack sparked five days of fighting and resulted in Russian forces driving into South Ossetia and on into Georgia.

Speaking in Moscow, Konstantin Kosachyov, head of foreign affairs committee in the Kremlin-controlled lower house, accused Mr. Cheney of trying to forge an “anti-Russian axis.”

“It’s Cheney who was behind all recent events on the former Soviet turf,” Mr. Kosachyov said in televised remarks.

The vice president’s trip was intended as a signal that the U.S. will continue cultivating close ties with Georgia and its neighbors even after Russia showed it was willing to use military force against countries along its border.

Before Georgia, Mr. Cheney stopped in oil-rich Azerbaijan.

There are concerns the Kremlin might next seek to squeeze Ukraine as it tries to reclaim dominance in the former Soviet Union. The strategically located country of 46 million has pipelines that carry Russian gas to European consumers and a Black Sea port that is home to a key Russian naval base.

“America will do its duty to work with the governments of Georgia and our other friends and allies to protect our common interests and to uphold our values,” Mr. Cheney said.

On the eve of his arrival, the White House announced a $1 billion commitment to help the small, strategically located nation recover from its war with Russia.

Mr. Saakashvili said Georgia was grateful for the aid, which matched his government’s estimate of war damages.

The United States is at Georgia’s side, Mr. Cheney said, “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.”

New U.S. military aid to Georgia would further test relations between Washington and Moscow, which are already at a post-Cold War low.

Russia has condemned the U.S. use of warships to deliver aid as a form of gunboat diplomacy. The flagship of the U.S. 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean, the USS Mount Whitney, sailed into the Black Sea on Wednesday with more aid for Georgia.

According to a military official, the ship is planning to dock in the Black Sea port of Poti. The official said the Russians have said they want to check the cargo when it arrives in Poti, and the U.S. has agreed to that.

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