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    Cheney hails 'courageous' Georgia, condemns Russian 'invasion'

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    U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney urged the "free world" on Thursday to rally with Georgia against what he called Russia's invasion, and pledged to bring Georgia into NATO.

    TBILISI, August 4 (RIA Novosti) - U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney urged the "free world" on Thursday to rally with Georgia against what he called Russia's invasion, and pledged to bring Georgia into NATO.

    The hawkish vice president's arrival in Georgia came a day after Washington pledged $1 billion in reconstruction aid for the South Caucasus country, following last month's conflict with Russia.

    Standing alongside President Mikheil Saakashvili in Tbilisi, Cheney said: "After your nation won its freedom in the Rose Revolution, America came to the aid of this courageous young democracy."

    Cheney's comments are likely to further strain tensions with Russia, which has strongly criticized the military and political backing given by the U.S. to Georgia since Saakashvili came to power in the 2003 'revolution', and Washington's failure to prevent Tbilisi from attacking breakaway South Ossetia. (Life in Tskhinvali today - Image gallery)

    Cheney said the U.S. supports Georgia "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."

    "Now it is the responsibility of the free world to rally to the side of Georgia."

    He also thanked Georgia for sending troops to support the U.S. in Iraq, and questioned Russia's "reliability as an international partner, not just in Georgia but across this region and indeed across the international system."

    On Tbilisi's NATO bid, Cheney said unequivocally: "Georgia will be in our alliance."

    Later on Thursday, Cheney will leave for Ukraine, another ex-Soviet state with NATO ambitions, to meet with President Viktor Yushchenko, who is currently caught up in a standoff with his government over a recent parliamentary vote to slash presidential powers, and over the Georgia-Russia conflict.

    Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has refused to condemn Russia's operation in Georgia, where Moscow retains a peacekeeping presence, and its recognition of breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The opposition Party of Regions has openly supported Russia in the conflict, even sending Saakashvili a package of 365 ties -"so that he will have one to eat every day" - in a sarcastic reference to the widely-circulated footage of the Georgian leader nervously chewing on his tie during the conflict.

    Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Tuesday his country is ready to repair damaged relations with the United States despite Washington's support for the regime in Georgia.

    In a TV interview he called Saakashvili a "political corpse", and said U.S. support for Georgia had contributed to the current crisis.

    Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin earlier told CNN that he believed the conflict in Georgia had been provoked by the White House in order to give an advantage to "one of" the candidates in the U.S. presidential race.

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