Cheney in Ukraine to pledge support amid tense conflict

As tensions with Moscow continued over Russia's invasion of Georgia last month, Vice President Dick Cheney renewed Washington's backing for Ukraine on Friday, asserting America's claim to act as a guarantor in a country that was part of the former Soviet Union.

Cheney's pledge was offered during a visit here, coincided with the arrival of a U.S. Navy command ship, the Mount Whitney, off the Black Sea port of Poti, close to positions taken by the Russian military.

American officials said the warship was delivering relief supplies, but Russia immediately questioned whether its presence contravened international agreements, dating to 1936 and governing access by military vessels to the Black Sea.

The ship arrived off Poti one day after Cheney, on a tour of former Soviet satellite countries, flew to Tbilisi, Georgia, to deliver a forceful American pledge to rebuild Georgia and its economy, to preserve its sovereignty and its territory and to bring it into the NATO alliance in defiance of Russia.

The Mount Whitney was the third American warship to sail into the Black Sea in the last month, a naval relief operation the Russians have denounced as military, not humanitarian.

Like Georgia, Ukraine is seeking membership in NATO. After meeting with President Viktor Yushchenko, Cheney repeated Friday that Ukraine would one day join the alliance and said Ukrainians should be able to live “without the threat of tyranny, economic blackmail and military invasion or intimidation,” The Associated Press reported. He said Washington had a “deep and abiding interest” in Ukraine's security. Clifford J. Levy contributed.