Cheney says Russia’s acts an ‘affront’


CERNOBBIO/MOSCOW — U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney said Saturday that Russia’s actions in the conflict with Georgia are an “affront to civilized standards” and “completely unacceptable.”

Using some of the strongest language to date by the U.S. administration, Cheney challenged Russia to engage in the world as a “responsible, modern power.” He said NATO enlargement would continue as the allies see fit, despite Russia’s opposition to the possible inclusion of its former satellite states.

Cheney was speaking at a conference of global business and political leaders in northern Italy. As he walked into the room accompanied by his wife, Cheney was welcomed by a round of applause by the conference guests. He said Russia’s action in its military invasion in Georgia were “flatly contrary to some of our most deeply held beliefs.”

“Russia’s actions are an affront to civilized standards and are completely unacceptable,” the vice president told the conference. “Russia has offered no satisfactory justification for the invasion, nor could it do so.”

Cheney was at the conference on Lake Como as part of a European tour. He visited oil-rich Azerbaijan and then Georgia, where Russia has recognized the independence of two breakaway Georgian regions: South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Washington also offered Georgia a US$1 billion aid package to help it recover from the short but damaging war with Russia over the separatist regions.

In Moscow, President Dmitry Medvedev again put the West on notice that Moscow will exert its military and economic might with new determination, saying Saturday that “Russia is a nation to be reckoned with” after its war with Georgia.

With a U.S. Navy ship unloading aid off Georgia’s Black Sea coast within shooting distance of Russian troops, Medvedev’s comments were another reminder that the Kremlin views last month’s war as the start of a new era in Russian assertiveness.

In France, the European Union’s 27 foreign ministers were reluctant to provoke Moscow, with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner saying the EU did not plan to impose sanctions against Russia.

“Russia must remain a partner, it’s our neighbor, it’s a large country and there is no question to go back to a Cold War situation, that would be a big mistake,” Kouchner said.

In the weeks since Russian forces routed the Georgian army and seized the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia, Russian officials have used bellicose language toward the West. Vladimir Putin, the president and former KGB chief who is now prime minister, has suggested the United States was to blame for the war for helping the Georgian military rebuild.

At a meeting Saturday of the State Council, Medvedev said the world had changed since the beginning of fighting in Georgia last month.

“We have reached a moment of truth. It became a different world after Aug. 8,” he said.

“Russia will never allow anyone to infringe upon the lives and dignity of its citizens. Russia is a nation to be reckoned with from now on,” Medvedev told the council, a government consultative body of largely regional governors.

Medvedev criticized the United States and other Western nations, though not by name, for challenging Russia’s intervention.

“Millions of people supported us, but we’ve heard no words of support and understanding from those who in the same circumstances pontificate about free elections and national dignity and the need to use force to punish an aggressor,” he said.

The United States has moved to counter Russia, both lambasting Moscow for what it called a disproportionate military response and providing humanitarian and economic aid to Georgia.