WASHINGTON – Vice President Cheney will travel next week to war-ravaged Georgia as part of a swing through several former Soviet republics, making him the highest-level U.S. emissary to visit the country since hostilities between Russia and Georgia broke out this month, officials said Monday.
The trip will put the Bush administration’s most prominent hawk in a war zone still occupied by lingering Russian troops, and is likely to irritate leaders in Moscow, who have condemned the United States for siding with Georgia in the conflict.
It will also underscore the extent of disagreement within the Bush administration over how forcefully to confront Moscow. Cheney and his aides unsuccessfully argued in favor of increasing military aid to the fledgling Georgian democracy, according to officials familiar with the debate.
In Moscow, Russia’s parliament voted unanimously Monday to recognize the independence of two Georgian breakaway regions that its military invaded earlier this month.
If approved by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, the resolution would give a domestic legal basis for Russia to essentially take control of the areas, in defiance of the U.S.-backed government of Georgia.
In Washington, American officials condemned the measure, saying that it would be “unacceptable” for Russia to follow through. While it is not certain that Medvedev will give a green light to the legislation, its passage was a strong signal from Moscow.
“Today the parliament was doing the paperwork on what has happened de facto: Russia has formally acknowledged that it is a protector of South Ossetia and Abkhazia,” said Valery Solovey, a Moscow-based analyst with the Gorbachev foundation, a Western leaning think-tank.
Cheney’s trip, beginning next Tuesday, will include stops in three former Soviet republics – Georgia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine – and then a visit to Italy for an annual conference of world leaders, officials said.
U.S. officials said the visits to all locations except Ukraine had been in the works before the war in Georgia, which erupted Aug. 7 after Georgia launched an artillery barrage against the pro-Russian province of South Ossetia. Russia responded by advancing deep into Georgia, and it has kept military posts there despite a cease-fire.