The flagship of the U.S. Navy's Mediterranean fleet anchored Friday outside this key Georgian port, defiantly delivering humanitarian aid to the war-ravaged U.S. ally in a slap at Moscow.
The USS Mount Whitney was the first Navy ship to travel to Poti since Georgia's five-day war with Russia last month. The continued presence of hundreds of Russian soldiers here has been a major point of friction between Russia and the West, which insists Moscow hasn't honored a cease-fire deal to pull back to positions held before fighting broke out Aug. 7.
Out on the water, the Mount Whitney rode at anchor in choppy seas and a brisk wind as Navy officers escorted visitors around. One of Poti's two Russian camps could be seen from the deck, the blue flag used by Russian peacekeeping forces flapping in the breeze.
Two U.S. ships had already come and gone from Georgia carrying humanitarian aid, but they anchored at Batumi, a smaller port to the south with no Russian military presence.
In Portugal, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Russia was “deepening its isolation” by not honoring commitments to withdraw its troops from Georgia.
But Russia delivered a diplomatic counterpunch, receiving support Friday from the leaders of six other former Soviet republics who issued a joint statement condemning Georgia for using force to try to retake control of its separatist province of South Ossetia.
The declaration by members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization – linking Moscow with Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – also praised Russia for “helping peace and security.”
However, the allies did not go as far as the Kremlin and recognize Georgia's two separatist areas – South Ossetia and Abkhazia – as independent nations. On Friday, the leftist president of Nicaragua made his Central American nation the only other state to offer such recognition.