WASHINGTON – Offering new support for Georgia following its losing military clash with Russia last month, President Bush said Wednesday the United States would provide up to $1 billion in assistance to the beleaguered Caucasus nation.
But by including no money for Georgia’s military, the White House appeared to be trying to avoid irritating Moscow while the region remains tense.
Although administration officials said they are considering re-arming the Georgians, funds in the two-year package announced Wednesday are reserved for economic and humanitarian assistance.
“It is not yet time to look at the questions of assistance on the military side,” U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said.
The announcement came as Vice President Dick Cheney arrived in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, on a trip that also includes stops in Georgia and Ukraine.
After meeting with Azerbaijan’s president, Cheney noted his trip is taking place “in the shadow of the recent Russian invasion of Georgia – an act that has been clearly condemned by the international community.”
The White House said that the new, multiyear assistance package would help Georgia rebuild infrastructure, back up private-sector financing, and pay for humanitarian aid.
The United States provided $30 million in food and other humanitarian aid following the Georgian-Russian warfare that began in early August when Georgian forces moved against South Ossetia, a pro-Russian enclave that broke with Georgia’s government more than a decade ago. Russian leaders say they intervened after Ossetian civilians were killed by Georgian troops, and the fighting ended with a Russian occupation to enforce the separation from Georgia of South Ossetia and fellow breakaway region Abkhazia.
“Thus far it looks like the administration is going out of its way to avoid military assistance that would indeed be interpreted by Moscow as a serious provocation,” said Charles Kupchan, of Georgetown University, who was a national security aide during President Clinton’s administration.
Despite the absence of money for arms, Moscow still is considered likely to react angrily to the U.S. package. Nonetheless, the Bush administration seems to be still hoping that Russia will remove its troops from Georgia.
Meanwhile, political turmoil seethed in Ukraine, where Cheney is due today.
Ukraine’s government seemed on the brink of collapse Wednesday as a festering dispute sharply escalated between President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko, longtime political rivals who are expected to square off in the next presidential election.