TBILISI, Georgia – Vice President Dick Cheney assured Georgian leaders Thursday that the U.S. is “fully committed” to Georgia’s pursuit of NATO membership, an assurance likely to further anger a Kremlin bent on keeping the Western military alliance out of former Soviet territory.
Meeting with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, Cheney used some of the harshest rhetoric yet from Washington against Russia, condemning its invasion and occupation of U.S.-allied Georgia as an “illegitimate, unilateral attempt” to forcibly change its tiny neighbor’s borders.
“Russia’s actions have cast grave doubts on Russia’s intentions and on its reliability as an international partner,” Cheney said.
Cheney’s visit to Tbilisi was the second leg of a tour through U.S.-allied nations that have angered the Kremlin by pursuing integration with the West. On Wednesday, the vice president visited Azerbaijan, an oil-rich former Soviet republic and a vital cog in U.S. attempts to establish an energy corridor that bypasses Russia.
After his visit in Georgia, Cheney was scheduled to fly to Ukraine to meet with President Viktor Yushchenko, who like Saakashvili has been trying to steer his nation toward eventual membership in NATO and economic integration with Europe.
The Kremlin regards NATO’s dialogue with Georgia and Ukraine about membership as a direct threat to Russian national security.