09/04/2008, 00.00
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Cheney in Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine to reinforce alliances under pressure

Extensive assurances of support and a billion dollars in aid for Georgia, to continue collaboration with countries crucial to energy security. Meanwhile, Moscow seeks other countries to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Tbilisi (AsiaNews/Agencies) - United States vice president Dick Cheney is in Georgia today, after visiting Azerbaijan yesterday on his visit to reinforce relations with the two countries, essential to Western energy policy.

In Tbilisi, Cheney called Russia's action "illegitimate", advanced doubts on Moscow's "reliability" as an international partner, and repeated his government's support for "this courageous young democracy". From Washington, he had previously announced a billion dollars in aid for reconstruction in the country, although experts maintain that it is likely that he is also offering military aid behind closed doors. Meanwhile, tomorrow the meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization begins in Moscow, between Russia and the six former Soviet republics of Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Russian president Dmitry Medvedev is expected to ask them to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, as Russia has already done.

Cheney's meeting yesterday with Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev is considered essential. At the end of it, he assured "the people of Azerbaijan" that "the United States has deep and strong interests in your welfare and security".

Baku (in the photo) is necessary for the plan of the the United States and Europe to create a network of oil pipelines bypassing the Russian system. Azerbaijan has a strategic position on the Caspian Sea, between Russia and Iran and adjoining Turkmenistan. It pumps a million barrels of oil every day (about 1% of world production), sending it through a pipeline across Georgia to the Turkish port of Ceyhan. But now Baku is vulnerable to a Russian operation similar to the one that it carried out in Georgia: for example, in support of the claims to autonomy by the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which are not unlike those of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia, and experts maintain that the country will ask Washington for guarantees of its security. Since the beginning of the conflict, some of the oil has been directed to Russia instead of Ceyhan, with the justification of the state of war. The Nabucco pipeline is also intended to pass through Azerbaijan and Georgia, according to the plan of the European Union to bring oil and gas from central Asia. So far, Baku has remained neutral between Russia and the United States, but the recent events could prompt it to take a more decisive stance.

This evening, Cheney will be in Kiev in Ukraine, and will meet tomorrow with President Victor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, before flying to Italy for an economic forum. This means that he will have visited three countries that have recently grown much closer to the West, and upon which Moscow is exerting significant pressure.

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