US Vice President Dick Cheney pledged support for Georgia as he arrived in Tbilisi Thursday, calling Russia's military offensive an "illegitimate" act that undermined its credibility.
Cheney's visit aims to show the extent of US support in the region
Cheney's visit to Georgia, on the heels of an announcement of a billion-dollar humanitarian aid package, was meant to demonstrate US backing for the ex-Soviet state, which was crippled by a five-day war with Russia last month over the breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Speaking to reporters after meeting Georgia's pro-western President Mikhail Saakashvili, Cheney underlined Georgia's democratic credentials.
"After your nation won its freedom in the Rose Revolution, America came to the aid of this courageous young democracy," Cheney told reporters, referring to the peaceful revolution in 2003 which brought Saakashvili to power.
"We are doing so again as you work to overcome an invasion of your sovereign territory and an illegitimate, unilateral attempt to change your country's borders by force that has been universally condemned by the free world," Cheney said.
Cheney slams Russia
The US vice president also took aim at Russia, saying Moscow's push into Georgia was an "illegitimate act."
"Russia's actions have cast grave doubt on Russia's intentions and on its reliability as an international partner -- not just in Georgia but across this region and, indeed, throughout the international system," Cheney said.
Cheney's visit aims to demonstrate US backing for strategic countries in the region to underline America's "deep and abiding interests" in the Caucasus, and to help secure US energy supplies from the region.
Russia has warned that any western moves to re-arm Georgia could bring further instability, sharpening the standoff in the region between Moscow and Washington. US-Russian relations have sunk to a post-Cold War low.
Rice pledges US financial support for Georgia
The trip marks the highest level visit by a US official to Georgia since the the country fought a five-day war last month with Russia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia. It is also Cheney's first-ever visit to Tbilisi.
Highlighting US aid package
After talks with Saakashvili, the US vice president is to visit US aid operations in Georgia, a day after promising that Washington would continue to do its part in maintaining the region's security.
His tour is to highlight President George W. Bush's announcement of a $1-billion (690 million euro) aid package for its embattled ally, and shore up the US-Georgian alliance after Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev described the Georgian leader as a "political corpse."
The US will provide $1 billion in humanitarian aid to Georgia following the Russian invasion of the former Soviet Republic, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said late Wednesday, Sept. 3.
"Georgia's needs are great, especially its economic needs," Rice said. "The free world cannot allow the destiny of a small independent country to be determined by the aggression of a larger neighbor."
Dispute over US warships in Georgia
The aid will help support ongoing humanitarian relief efforts and reconstruction and buoy the economy. It is not military assistance, Rice said.
Three US warships have arrived in Georgia to deliver humanitarian supplies since the conflict erupted last month. The US Air Force and Navy have been flying aid into the country.
But they deny Russian charges that the ships could mask a military build-up.
Saakashvili: a "political corpse"?
The US has taken a lead role supporting Georgia since hostilities erupted in August over the Moscow-backed rebel regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and even before. Russia has since recognized those regions as independent.
Cheney started his tour in oil-rich Azerbaijan, touting common interest in energy security. He noted that even though parts of the trip were planned earlier, his talks with President Ilham Aliyev took place "in the shadow of the recent Russian invasion of Georgia."
Recalling how he and Aliyev "met some years in the past when we were both in the energy business," Cheney told reporters that "the United States has a deep and abiding interest in your well being and security."
Cheney seeks safe energy routes
After talks with chiefs of oil companies in the region, he pressed for more routes for energy exports. Though he referenced oil and gas pipelines in the works that would avoid going through Russia, he offered no details on whether any new deals were struck.
"Together with the nations of Europe, including Turkey, we must work with Azerbaijan and other countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia on additional routes for energy exports that ensure the free flow of resources," Cheney said.
Cheney's tour of Georgian relief operations is certain to anger Russia. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned this week that Russia would react to a build-up of NATO naval forces in the Black Sea.