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Cheney visit: U.S. treads tightrope on Georgia aid

The Bush administration announces $1 billion in aid but no military assistance.

By Staff writer / September 5, 2008

To the rescue? US Vice President Dick Cheney (l.), listened to Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili at a news briefing in Tbilisi Thursday.

David Mdzinarishvili/Reuters

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Washington

The Bush administration's announcement of $1 billion in humanitarian and economic aid – but no military assistance – to Georgia in the wake of its war with Russia suggests the delicate balancing act the United States will attempt as it confronts the repercussions of a newly assertive Russia.

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The substantial aid package, which would make the small republic on Russia's southern flank a top recipient of US assistance, indicates the resolve of President Bush to support emerging Westward-leaning democracies in the area of the former Soviet Union.

At the same time, the absence at least for now of any assistance to Georgia's American-trained and –equipped military suggests a desire not to further provoke a Russia that considers the young republics on its borders part of its "near abroad." Despite terse accusations and mocking exchanges between the US and Russia in recent days, the Bush administration wants to avoid fully alienating a Russia that has an important role in other international issues.

The humanitarian and economic aid, which would help to house and feed war refugees in the short term and to rebuild infrastructure, was announced on the eve of Vice President Dick Cheney's visit Thursday to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. Mr. Cheney criticized Russian actions in the brief war last month, while mounting a muscular defense of Georgia's hopes to join Western institutions including NATO – an aspiration that riles Russia.

"Georgia will be in our alliance," Cheney said, reiterating US support for Georgia's candidacy to NATO. Despite the American position, NATO leaders put off Georgia's application at a summit earlier this year, in part over Russian objections.

Cheney's brief stop in Georgia, part of a swing through former Soviet republics that included Azerbaijan and Ukraine, signaled the tougher branch of the two-pronged US approach. "America will do its duty to work with the governments of Georgia and our other friends and allies to protect our common interests and to uphold our values," the vice president said in Tblisi.

Cheney also made special note of Georgia's willingness to send troops to Iraq. But in Washington, US officials emphasized that the aid package includes no military assistance. In announcing the new assistance, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appeared to carefully choose her words when she said the aid was meant to "help Georgia sustain itself" – rather than to defend itself.

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