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U.S. pledges $1 billion aid to Georgia

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON - Offering new support for Georgia after its losing military clash with Russia last month, President Bush said yesterday that the United States would provide up to $1 billion in assistance to the beleaguered Caucasus nation.

But by including no money for Georgia's military, the White House appeared to be trying to avoid irritating Moscow while the region remains tense.

Although administration officials said they are considering rearming the Georgians, funds in the two-year package announced yesterday are reserved for economic and humanitarian assistance.

"It is not yet time to look at the questions of assistance on the military side," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said.

The announcement came as Vice President Dick Cheney arrived in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, on a trip that includes stops in American allies Georgia and Ukraine.

After meeting with Azerbaijan's president, Cheney noted that his trip is taking place "in the shadow of the recent Russian invasion of Georgia - an act that has been clearly condemned by the international community." The White House said that the new, multiyear assistance package would help Georgia rebuild infrastructure, back up private-sector financing and pay for humanitarian aid.

"Our additional economic assistance will help the people of Georgia recover from the assault on their country, and continue to build a prosperous and competitive economy," said a Bush statement.

Cheney said Bush had sent him to the region with a clear message that the United States had a "deep and abiding interest" in the stability and security of countries there.

The U.S. sent $30 million in food and other humanitarian aid after the Georgian-Russian warfare that began in early August when Georgian forces moved against South Ossetia, a pro-Russian enclave that broke with Georgia's government more than a decade ago. Russian leaders say they intervened after Ossetian civilians were killed by Georgian troops. The fighting ended with a Russian occupation to enforce the separation from Georgia of South Ossetia and fellow breakaway region Abkhazia.

"Thus far it looks like the administration is going out of its way to avoid military assistance that would indeed be interpreted by Moscow as a serious provocation," said Charles Kupchan, of Georgetown University, who was a national security aide during the Clinton administration.

Despite the absence of money for arms, Moscow still is considered likely to react angrily to the American package. Nonetheless, the Bush administration seems to be still hoping that Russia will remove its troops from Georgia.

The Russian consul in Georgia, meanwhile, said Russia had closed its embassy there and had halted consular operations since Georgia severed diplomatic ties after last month's war.

The diplomatic suspension means no new applications for Russian entry visas will be accepted, a blow to Georgians who have relatives in Russia or other ties there. Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Georgians live in Russia, many with Russian citizenship.

"A break-off of diplomatic ties is an action that has a price," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said in Moscow. He said the ministry was considering other measures.

The diplomatic break follows a brief war between Georgia and Russia in August and Moscow's recognition of two separatist Georgia regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, as independent nations. The conflict has brought tensions between Moscow and the West to their highest level since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

"Now I cannot get to Russia to see my wife," Vakhtang Tsereteli, a Georgian whose wife is a Russian citizen and lives in Moscow, said outside the consulate yesterday. "I don't know what to do."

On Monday, the European Union also announced new aid for Georgia, while warning that the alliance would postpone talks with Russia on a proposed partnership if Russia does not pull back its troops from checkpoints in Georgia.

Meanwhile, political turmoil seethed in Ukraine, where Cheney is due today.

Ukraine's government seemed on the brink of collapse yesterday as a festering dispute sharply escalated between President Viktor A. Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko, longtime political rivals who are expected to square off in the next presidential election.

In a nationally televised address, Yushchenko accused the prime minister of leading a bloc of opposition parties in a "constitutional coup," and he threatened to call for new elections.

The president lashed out after parliament approved laws that would curtail the power of the president while bolstering the authority of the prime minister.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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