Cheney calls for united stance against Russia

Vice President Dick Cheney said Saturday that Russia's actions in the conflict with Georgia were an “affront to civilized standards.” He called on Western nations to stand united against any effort by Moscow to use its dominance as an energy supplier to intimidate its neighbors.

Cheney also said the expansion of NATO would continue despite Moscow's opposition, arguing that Russia should welcome its neighbors' joining an alliance that was not belligerent and whose members were democratic.

Moscow has objected to NATO's promise of future membership to Georgia and Ukraine, states it once ruled during the Soviet era.

“Russia's actions are an affront to civilized standards and are completely unacceptable,” the vice president said. “Russia has offered no satisfactory justification for the invasion, nor could it do so.”

Employing some of the harshest language by the U.S. in the month since the crisis erupted, Cheney portrayed Russia as an increasingly bellicose nation whose actions were at odds with today's interconnected global community.

“Brutality against the neighbor is simply the latest in a succession of troublesome and unhelpful actions by the Russian government,” he said. “Russia must relate to the world as a responsible modern power,” he said, speaking at a gathering of political and business leaders in this Italian lakeside resort.

“In the space of the last 30 days, Russia has violated the sovereignty of a democracy, made and then breached a solemn agreement in a direct affront to the EU, severely damaged its credibility and global standing and undermined its own relations with the United States and other countries,” Cheney said.

Russia and Georgia blame each other for provoking the conflict that erupted Aug. 7. But in invading uncontested Georgian territory — sending troops beyond Georgia's separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia — Cheney said Russia acted in a manner “flatly contrary to some of our most deeply held beliefs.”

Earlier this week, Cheney visited oil-rich Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Georgia, and Washington offered Georgia a $1billion aid package to help it recover from the war.

Cheney's remarks came as European Union nations — whose foreign ministers met this weekend in Avignon, France — pressed Russia again to keep its word and withdraw its forces from Georgia.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who brokered the EU peace plan, will lead an EU diplomatic mission to meet Monday with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

In Moscow, Medvedev gave no signal that he would compromise, saying the war with Georgia had shown the world that “Russia is a nation to be reckoned with.”