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U.S. providing aid to Georgia

The $1-billion package doesn't include any money for the military.

September 04, 2008|James Gerstenzang and Paul Richter | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — Offering new support for Georgia after its losing military clash with Russia last month, President Bush said Wednesday 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 Bush administration officials said they were considering rearming the Georgians, funds in the two-year package announced Wednesday are 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 also includes stops in Georgia and Ukraine, American allies.

After meeting with Azerbaijan's president, Cheney noted that his trip was 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 the new multiyear assistance package would back up private-sector financing, pay for humanitarian aid and help Georgia rebuild infrastructure.

"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," Bush said in a statement.

The United States provided $30 million in food and other humanitarian aid after the Georgian-Russian warfare, which began in early August when Georgian forces moved against South Ossetia, a pro-Russian enclave that broke with Georgia's government a decade and a half ago. Russian leaders say they intervened after Ossetian civilians and Russian peacekeepers were killed by the Georgian troops, and 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, a national security aide in the Clinton administration.

Yet 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 still be hoping that Russia will remove its troops from Georgia.

On Monday, the European Union also announced new aid for Georgia, while warning that the alliance would postpone talks with Moscow on a proposed partnership if Russia did 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 Wednesday as a festering dispute sharply escalated between President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, 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 joining with the opposition to lead a bloc of parties in a "constitutional coup," and threatened to call new elections. "A political and constitutional coup started at the parliament yesterday," Yushchenko said.

The president lashed out after parliament approved measures that would curtail the power of the presidency while bolstering the authority of the prime minister. Yushchenko said he would veto the bills, which he said were meant to create a "prime ministerial dictatorship."

In a televised address of her own, Tymoshenko predicted that the fragile ruling coalition would hold together. The constitution gives the squabbling coalition 10 days to work out its differences before new elections can be called.


Times staff writer Megan K. Stack in Moscow contributed to this report.

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