The US vice-president, Dick Cheney, yesterday issued a direct challenge to Moscow's sway over Georgia, pledging Washington's support for its eventual membership of Nato, while denouncing Russia's "illegitimate" invasion. "Georgia will be in our alliance," Cheney said after talks with President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Cheney used his one-day visit to Georgia to reinforce battle lines in the increasingly direct struggle between Washington and Moscow for the upper hand along Russia's southern border. His visit to Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine was aimed at stressing America's "deep, abiding interest" in the region, in response to the claim by Russia's president, Dmitry Medvedev, that Moscow had "privileged interests" in former Soviet states.
The US challenge was undermined by the collapse of Ukraine's pro-western coalition on the eve of Cheney's arrival in Kiev at the end of his three-country trip yesterday. The crisis threatened to derail President Viktor Yushchenko's efforts to win Ukraine Nato and EU membership.
Cheney made clear however that it would not shake Washington's deep involvement in the region, now focused on Georgia after last month's conflict with Russia over South Ossetia.
Shrugging off Russian recognition of the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, he declared the Bush administration's "strong commitment to Georgia's territorial integrity". The US would stand with Georgia, he said, "as you work to overcome an invasion of your sovereign territory and an illegitimate attempt to change your country's borders by force".
He also made a point of reaffirming US support for Saakashvili, who Moscow has derided as "a political corpse". In pointed contrast, Cheney told the Georgian leader: "You have been fearless in response to the occupation of your country and steadfast in your principles. We respect you."
From the On-Line version of The Guardian (UK)