US President George W. Bush met Monday with the leaders of Lithuania and Ukraine to discuss the fallout from Russia`s war in Georgia and warned Moscow against "bullying" its democratic neighbors, according to AFP.
In separate White House talks, Bush sought to reassure the former Soviet republics of US support in the face of a newly assertive Kremlin, which some analysts warn may be sizing up other neighbors after the August conflict.
Bush, meeting with Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, said they had "talked about Georgia-Russia, and the need for democracies to be able to stand on their own feet without fear of bullying."
Bush also pledged help for Lithuania, as the former Soviet republic and NATO member looks to diversify its sources of energy, and restated the US obligation under the NATO charter to come to the aid of an alliance member under attack.
"It`s important for the people of Lithuania to know that when the United States makes a commitment through, for example, Article 5 of the treaty, we mean it," the US president assured his guest.
With Lithuania seeking greater energy independence, Bush pledged the United States will "try to help you as best as we can." And the US president expressed "hope" that, by mid-October, Lithuanians would be able to travel to the United States without first seeking a visa.
Adamkus thanked Bush for his support for Lithuania joining NATO, which it did in 2004, saying that would not have happened without US leadership "and the entire security question in the region would be in doubt."
The Lithuanian leader also appealed for a lasting US presence in Europe, implying such a presence might be necessary to dissuade a newly assertive Moscow from any designs on former Soviet republics. "I hope that United States will be visible ... just to show our neighbors that we`re definitely not alone, and we are building the democracy together," said Adamkus.
In talks with Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko, Bush evoked US support for Kiev`s accession to NATO over vehement objections from Russia, which has also denounced Washington`s backing of alliance membership for Georgia.
"We discussed the NATO and membership application process. We discussed energy independence. We discussed ways that we can work together to bring stability and peace to parts of the world," said Bush.
Yushchenko sought to reassure his host about political turmoil in Ukraine, where the ruling post-Western alliance has collapsed and some officials warn that any snap elections could result in a victory for pro-Moscow forces.
The situation, "in my opinion, is far away from being tragic, and not dramatic. Ukraine has enough democratic resource and tools to give sufficient response to any crisis that may occur in the Ukrainian parliament," he said. "We raised the issue of energy cooperation, which is a very urgent issue for us," said the Ukrainian leader.
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 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.