Cheney in Georgia to show support against Russia
Cheney is due later on Thursday to head to Ukraine
Vice President Dick Cheney arrived in Georgia on Thursday to signal support for its government after Russia crushed Georgian forces in a brief war last month and pushed deep into the ex-Soviet state`s territory, according to Reuters.
On a tour of U.S. allies in the region that started on Wednesday in Azerbaijan, Cheney landed at Tbilisi airport and was due to hold talks with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Cheney, a hawk and one of Moscow`s harshest critics, is the highest ranking U.S. official to visit Georgia since Tbilisi tried to retake the breakaway region of South Ossetia by force in early August and was overwhelmed by the Russian military.
His visit is certain to rile the Kremlin which has accused Washington of fuelling tensions by encouraging Saakashvili, a U.S.-educated lawyer with close ties to the administration of President George W. Bush.
Cheney was due later on Thursday to head to Ukraine -- like Georgia an ex-Soviet country seeking NATO membership -- before ending his tour in Italy.
Both Azerbaijan and Georgia are links in the chain of a Western-backed energy corridor bypassing Russia which the West fears could be in jeopardy following the Kremlin`s military thrust into Georgia.
Speaking in Azerbaijan`s capital Baku on Wednesday, Cheney said the United States had a "deep and abiding interest" in the well-being and security of its allies in the region and believed strongly in the need for alternative routes for energy exports.
Moscow has said it acted in Georgia to prevent what it called genocide when Tbilisi launched its military push into pro-Russian South Ossetia on August 7.
The Kremlin subsequently recognized South Ossetia and a second rebel region, Abkhazia, as independent states, drawing condemnation from Washington and Europe.
It has kept troops in a "buffer zone" on Georgian territory, a move the West says violates a French-brokered peace plan. Moscow says its troops provide needed security and their presence is not at odds with the six-point ceasefire.
The U.S. administration has considered moves to punish Moscow, such as scrapping a lucrative civil nuclear deal, but it has not announced any sanctions and the West appears to have few options for influencing Russia.
"The challenge for the West is to demonstrate to the Russians that however significant their gains are today, they have set in motion a chain of events that will prove very damaging tomorrow," said James Sherr, head of the Russia and Eurasia program at London`s Chatham House think-tank.
On Wednesday, the United States announced an aid package of more than $1 billion to help Georgia rebuild housing, transportation and other infrastructure destroyed in its five-day war with Russia.
Bush has directed federal agencies to expand economic aid for Georgia. To underline U.S. support, Washington is sending the USS Mount Whitney, a sophisticated command warship of the U.S. Sixth Fleet, to Georgia loaded with more than 17 tonnes of humanitarian aid.
The Kremlin has accused Washington of using its navy to play a dangerous game of brinkmanship in the Black Sea.