US Vice President Dick Cheney arrived in Italy on Friday on the last stop of a four-nation tour aimed at bolstering Western support for former Soviet republics in the wake of Russia’s five-day war with Georgia.
Cheney was to address the Ambrosetti conference on security and intelligence in Lake Como yesterday, after pledging Washington’s “deep and abiding interest” in Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan and slamming Russia’s military actions last month over the rebel region of South Ossetia.
The US vice president also expressed support for Georgia and Ukraine becoming eventual members of NATO. He was expected to press that message to leaders at the conference, and in one-on-one talks with Spanish, Turkish and Italian leaders.
During his trip, Cheney urged the expansion of energy routes that would take oil and gas to Europe and bypass oil giant Russia, vowed continued US support for ally Georgia and called on Ukraine’s leaders to unite in the face of Russian “threats.”
He also restated US support for Ukraine’s bid to join NATO and warned Russia against attempting to block Ukraine’s entry to the military alliance.
An administration official told reporters following Cheney’s talks in Kiev that Russia’s conflict with Georgia may have altered views among US allies in the region, but that the administration of President George W. Bush would invest “an awful lot of energy” in pushing for Georgian and Ukrainian entry in NATO during its final months in office.
“People have been shaken by events in Georgia,” the official said on condition of anonymity. “It has created a new situation. I think there are some indications that some of the allies are looking with a fresh set of eyes, looking at the new circumstances.”
“There’s a lot of diplomatic work, consultations that have to be done,” the official said.
Russia has objected to the 26-member NATO military alliance, which Moscow sees as a Cold War relic, and said it was time for a new inclusive security system including Russia.
EU members decided at a summit this week in Brussels to freeze talks on a strategic partnership accord with Moscow after Russia’s military surge into Georgia and recognition of Georgian rebel regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.