$1 billion promised to help Georgia recover

Pushing back against an increasingly aggressive Moscow, President Bush said Wednesday that the U.S. will send an extra $1billion to Georgia to help the pro-Western former Soviet republic in the wake of Russia's invasion.

“Georgia has a strong economic foundation and leaders with an impressive record of reform,” Bush said in a statement.

“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.”

Vice President Dick Cheney, due in Georgia today, planned to make the massive aid package a highlight of his discussions with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.

Cheney is on a tour of three former Soviet republics that are wary of Russia's intentions in what Moscow likes to call its “near abroad” sphere of influence and what Cheney termed while in Azerbaijan on Wednesday “the shadow of the Russian invasion of Georgia.”

“The free world cannot allow the destiny of a small independent country to be determined by the aggression of a larger neighbor,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters at the State Department in a simultaneous announcement with Bush.

She mocked Russia for its recognition of the two separatist regions in Georgia that are at the heart of the conflict that broke out last month, and for its failure to garner international backing.

“Almost no one followed suit, I might note. It isn't really an impressive list to have Abkhazia and South Ossetia recognize each other,” she said.

Also in tandem with Bush, the International Monetary Fund announced it has agreed to lend Georgia $750 million for economic recovery.

The administration is delaying an announcement on some sort of punishment of Russia for its actions against Georgia and its refusal thus far to comply with a French-brokered cease-fire.

However, the decision to shower tiny Georgia with such substantial aid and have Cheney talk about it in Moscow's backyard will likely be seen by the Kremlin as highly provocative, if not a punitive measure in and of itself.

The dollar total is half the $2 billion a year the U.S. gives Israel, its largest aid recipient.

But the sizable amount still shows the strategic importance the U.S. places on both supporting Saakashvili's Western-leaning government and countering the desire by a newly resurgent and energy-rich Moscow for greater regional influence.

That said, the U.S. has found during this conflict that it has little leverage with Russia.

Moscow has drawn condemnations from the United States and Europe, but little else.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, Russia closed its embassy in Georgia, following Georgia's severing of diplomatic ties with Moscow.

After years of tensions, the recent fighting began Aug. 7 when Georgian forces went into its breakaway province of South Ossetia in hopes of re-establishing control. Russian forces repelled the offensive and pushed deep into Georgia proper.

Both sides signed the cease-fire in mid-August, but Russia has ignored its requirement for all forces to return to prewar positions.