CRAWFORD, Texas (Reuters) - The White House on Monday pressed Russia not to recognize Georgia’s rebel areas and said Vice President Dick Cheney, an staunch critic of Moscow, would visit the region to show U.S. support for former Soviet states.
President George W. Bush said Georgia’s borders must be respected after the Russian parliament called on the Kremlin to recognize two separatist regions — South Ossetia and Abkhazia — as independent states.
“I call on Russia’s leadership to meet its commitments and not recognize these separatist regions,” Bush said.
“Georgia’s territorial integrity and borders must command the same respect as every other nation’s, including Russia’s,” he said in a statement from his Texas ranch.
Russia and Georgia, which hosts two major energy pipelines, fought a brief war this month after Tbilisi sent troops to try to retake South Ossetia, a pro-Moscow region that threw off Georgian rule in the 1990s.
Russia responded with a massive counter-attack that overwhelmed Georgia’s military, and then sent troops into Georgia proper, where some of them remain.
The push by Russia’s parliament to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia followed U.S. recognition of Kosovo’s independence from Serbia in February over strenuous objection from Moscow.
Moscow has withdrawn most of its forces from central and western Georgia and says those still in place are peacekeepers needed to avert bloodshed and protect the breakaway regions.
But Georgia and Western governments say Moscow has not complied with a French-brokered ceasefire agreement to pull its troops back to lines held before the start of fighting.
“There continues to be a large presence of Russian forces in Georgia,” U.S. Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters. “It’s fair to say that they are still not living up to the terms of the ceasefire agreement.”
Officials from the Group of Seven (G-7) industrialized nations spoke on Monday and agreed the Russian withdrawal was “inadequate,” the U.S. State Department said.
Georgia and the West also object to the scale of the Russian-imposed buffer zone adjoining the two rebel regions, which hands Moscow pressure points on key oil and trade routes through Georgia to the Black Sea.
Cheney, who in the past accused Moscow of blackmailing its neighbors, will to go to Georgia in September to show U.S. commitment to the small but vital U.S. ally, the White House said. Cheney will also visit Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Italy during the trip.
“The Vice President will be delivering ... the word of America’s support, and also consulting on how these leaders in the region see the future playing out,” White House spokesman Tony Fratto told reporters in Texas.
His trip comes as the Bush administration considers what steps it might take against Moscow, which has largely ignored Western demands since the conflict began.
The administration was considering what to do about a recently signed deal on civilian nuclear cooperation with Moscow that Bush sent to Congress earlier this year, the State Department said.
Asked whether the administration would withdraw the agreement, Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control John Rood said: “That’s something that obviously we are going to have to evaluate, given the current situation. I don’t have any announcements on that one way or another.”
In Moscow, a Russian nuclear official said the Bush administration should withdraw the accord to prevent it being blocked by the current Congress. Key U.S. lawmakers have cast doubt on the pact’s prospects after the war in Georgia.
Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s running mate and head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said recently that Russia’s actions had “erased” the possibility of legislative efforts to promote the nuclear deal.
The pact is required under U.S. law before countries can cooperate on nuclear materials, such as storing spent fuel or working together on advanced reactor programs.
It goes into force later this year unless Congress votes to block it — or adjourns for the year before lawmakers have had 90 legislative days to review it.
Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell and David Morgan in Washington; Editing by Anthony Boadle