Bush to hold talks with Lithuania, Ukraine leaders
Ukranian support to the missions in Iraq will come up?
US President George W. Bush was to meet with the leaders of former Soviet republics Lithuania and Ukraine on Monday for talks shaped by worries over Russia`s conflict with Georgia.
Bush was to discuss the international response to the war in separate talks with Lithuanian President President Valdas Adamkus and Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko, who have denounced Moscow`s actions in its smaller neighbor.
"I expect the situation in Georgia and relations with Russia to be a large part of the discussions. The United States, Lithuania and Ukraine stand united in support of the territorial integrity of Georgia," said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe.
"It`s also likely that Lithuanian and Ukranian support to the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan will come up, as well issues related to NATO, trade and energy security," Johndroe told AFP.
Moscow has seen relations with former Soviet republics and the West deteriorate sharply since its early August war with Georgia, after years of tensions over access to energy supplies controlled by Russia.
Russia has regularly been accused of using its control of a hefty slice of Europe`s market for political ends, allegedly turning off the taps to punish those governments in Moscow`s communist-era stomping ground that are too critical of the Kremlin.
Lithuania, which broke free from the crumbling Soviet bloc in 1991 and joined the EU and NATO in 2004, has been sparring with Russia since August 2006, when the Russian pipeline monopoly Transneft cut supplies to the country`s only refinery.
And supplies to Europe were briefly disrupted in January 2006 as a consequence of a gas price dispute between Russia and Ukraine.
Russia has said it wants to phase out cheap gas supplies for Ukraine under a subsidy scheme dating from Soviet times and bring prices paid by Kiev into line with market rates paid by other countries in Europe.
Adding to the tensions, Lithuania and Ukraine have been ardent supporters of Georgia`s accession to NATO -- something Washington also supports despite Russia`s vehement opposition.
And, at the UN General Assembly in New York last week, Yushchenko rejected Russian pressure to prevent his country from joining NATO, citing Moscow`s "blackmailing and threatening vocabulary."
But political turmoil in Ukraine has raised questions about the fate of the pro-Western coalition there, and prompted talk of possible snap elections that might reverse the country`s years of efforts to integrate with the West.
Analysts have said Ukraine could be next in Moscow`s sights should it decide to flex more than diplomatic muscles in its former Soviet sphere of influence, amid fears over the maintenance of stable gas supplies to the European Union.
In another dispute with Moscow, Ukraine`s government has said it will not extend the presence of Russia`s Black Sea fleet beyond 2017.
Moscow has been angered by Ukrainian demands that it quickly relocate the historic fleet founded by the Russian Empress Catherine the Great at Sevastopol in the mid-18th century.
Ukraine infuriated Moscow during the Georgia conflict by imposing restrictions on the use of the port after ships stationed there were used in combat against Georgia, a close Ukrainian ally.