Vice President Joe Biden has expressed support for the NATO aspirations of Georgia, but rejects any military option for re-integration of that country's two breakaway regions recognized as independent by Russia. Biden's statement coincides with a Kremlin reminder of its objections to military aid for Georgia.
In an address to Georgia's Parliament, Biden recalled the country's difficult journey toward freedom, beginning with a declaration of independence in 1918, followed by decades of Soviet occupation and renewed sovereignty in 1991.
The U.S. vice president noted that sovereign democracies have a right to choose their own partnerships and alliances.
"We understand that Georgia aspires to join NATO. We fully support that aspiration and, members of parliament; we will work to continue to help you meet the standards of NATO membershi," he said.
Biden said that since last August, the United States has provided Georgia, a nation of five-million people, with $1 billion in assistance to help refugees from the last year's war with Russia as well as for infrastructure and development of Georgian civil society.
The vice president said the United States is working closely with Georgia to modernize its military, with a focus on training, planning and organization. But he rejected any military option for re-integrating Abkhazia and South Ossetia -- two breakaway regions recognized as independent by Russia.
"We will not recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. And we urge, we urge the world not to recognize them as independent states. And we call upon Russia to honor its international commitments clearly specified in the April 12 ceasefire agreement, including withdrawal of all forces to their pre-conflict positions and ultimately out of your territorial area," he said.
In a related development, Belarus said its citizens must observe Georgian laws for visiting Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Speaking in Minsk, the Deputy Chief of the Consular Department at the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, Alexander Lukashevich, said foreigners may only enter the disputed regions from Georgia, not Russia. Nicaragua is the only country in addition to Russia that recognizes Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Russian Deputy Foreign Ministry Grigory Karasin has expressed concern over what he said are activities by the Georgian leadership aimed at the country's remilitarization. In an interview with the Itar-Tass news agency, Karasin recalled a decree signed by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in January, prohibiting the export of military and dual use technology to Georgia. Russia also threatens countries that violate the decree with economic sanctions.
Referring to months of opposition protests against Mr. Saakashvili, Biden told Parliament that Georgia's 2003 "Rose Revolution" will only be complete when the government is transparent, accountable and fully participatory. He also made the point in a separate meeting with Georgian opposition leaders, including Levan Gachechiladze, said Biden understands their concerns.
Gachechiladze said that for him, it was important to discuss the development of democratic institutions in Georgia, noting the country lacks a free media and independent courts. He said the U.S. vice president told members of the opposition that America will support steps toward democracy in Georgia, not a single individual.
Joe Biden repeated in Tbilisi and Kyiv what President Barack Obama said two weeks ago in Moscow -- that the United States rejects any notion of a Russian sphere of influence in former Soviet republics. Georgian President Saakashvili said the statement is like "music to the ears" of people in Georgia.